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August 31, 2007

August 31! No way, Jose!

When I was at Faith's house last weekend I made sure to visit her garden in the backyard. She's growing a pumpkin! It's quite large and orange. So I called her yesterday, very excited:

Me: Hey guess what! I figured out how we can calculate the mathematical circumference of your awesome pumpkin!

Faith: Oh, that's so cool. How?

Me: We'll have to use Pumpkin Pi!

(I could not contain myself. I laugh at my own jokes.)

Faith: Is this because you're orange?

Me: According to Laurie Ann, I'm the California DMV's first blonde Oompa Loompa!

Faith: Indeed!

- - -

Happy Labor Day weekend. Do not labor. Also, please avoid driving on the 101 today so some people in red Jeeps will have less traffic. Thanks, man!

See you Tuesday!


Posted by laurie at 6:26 AM

August 30, 2007

Hot, handyman and hello there, inner decorator!


I'm not even going to bother complaining since it is August and I do live in the Valley. I'm merely posting this for my friend back East who was complaining about it being 95 degrees or some such nonsense. Also: Hello, there Dallas Raines! That is a fine tan you have, weatherman!

- - -



Saw this driving yesterday. This photo is not my usual top-quality traffic photography since -- gasp! -- traffic was actually moving. But Lord, I wished I'd known about that sort of service back when I was married. I am just saying is all.

- - -

And in household news...

The old mini blinds in the kitchen had been up long before I moved in and no matter how much I Windexed them and wiped them down, they still had a film and grimy ick to them. The main window over the countertop also looks directly into the next-door-neighbor's window and onto their driveway. And God love 'em, but my neighbors spend an inordinate amount of time in the driveway doing I have no idea what. Who walks up and down the driveway all day? They don't even use their front door, I'm almost positive they spend the whole day walking up and down the driveway, opening and shutting their back gate. It's nutty!

The other window in the kitchen is part of the back door. It was also covered up by a mini-blind that was undeniably gross, sticky from its proximity to the stove. No matter how much I cleaned or scrubbed or soaked the blinds, the gunk remained. And every time I opened the back door, I scraped my hand on the poorly-placed lower blind hardware. OUCH.

So I removed the blinds from both windows and scrubbed each window and windowsill clean (hot soapy water and tea tree oil with a scrub brush. Probably should have done this BEFORE cleaning the countertops and floors. Whoopsy.)

Then I worked the MAGIC. The magic of window film!

Decorative window film is something I have been looking for for ages. One weekend I was at Home Depot and there it was ... a whole display of these amazing colored and printed vinyl sheets that you cut to fit any glass surface. They use no adhesives so the designs are 100% removable and temporary -- perfect for a renter like me. Each roll of art film is $19.95 and will cover an average-sized window. It was a little more expensive than buying new mini-blinds, but well worth it.

The back door before and after:

Artscapes Decorative Window Film in "Bamboo" ... also, this picture doesn not truly convey the nastiness of the window blind but trust me it was gross.

Here's the kitchen window before, during and after (OK, I got excited and forgot to take a total "before" pic, so it has one pane of art film):



Artscapes Decorative Window Film in "Wisteria"

It took me about half an hour to clean the windows and measure and cut the vinyl film to size and another 20 minutes to apply everything just so. I love it!

- - -

Right after I applied the artscapes film to my kitchen windows, I caught an episode of some home improvement show on HGTV where the designer hated this kind of window treatment. I got up off the sofa and walked into the kitchen and evaluated my windows ... nope. I still loved them no matter what some designer on HGTV said.

Being decidedly single for the first time in my life is a new, interesting place. Like most girls growing up in the South in the 1970s and 80s, I took my style cues from my friends, my family, and later from MTV, watching my favorite videos over and over to scrutinize whatever my idol-of-the-moment was wearing. I always had my own little sense of personal flair (see: side-part mohawk) but when it came to decorating I didn't have a big say in things until I moved out on my own and by then I was either looking for a guy, looking to be pleasing to a guy, or settling down with a guy.

It seems that all my window dressing was something done to achieve an effect, to create a nest or project an image ... all meant to please another person.

Realizing things like this always makes me a little ashamed of myself. What woman living free in the United States of America in this day and age builds her home around a man? Any man? But that was the fact, and since I've been un-hitched I've slowly unfolded into my own style which is, as it turns out, nothing at all like what I thought it was!

I tried to make a list of all my little personal design epochs, the "home interior" version. My first design style was clearly Trailer Park Church Box Thrift Shop. No questions there. My teenage design style was I LOVE PRINCE. And U2. And Madonna. And "...the 80s called, they want their Debbie Gibson back." Later, my room was full of Marilyn Monroe posters and pictures of my best friends and lovey-dovey framed photos of my boyfriend along with a few dried prom corsages.

College was my favorite decorating period because it was so simple. I was just happy to wear my hippieass broomstick skirts and patchouli (OH GOD) and decorate with found objects and fellow art students' paintings. But it was a sweet time, I loved my little apartment in college. We burned a lot of incense.

When I moved to Los Angeles I had enough stuff to fill the trunk of my OH-SO-COOL Volkswagon Fox, and ya'll that is not much stuff. My decorating style that first year was "I cannot afford Los Angeles, I need a cigarette." It didn't help that my first apartment out here was so tiny you could make dinner while showering and answer the front door all at the same time.

When I got married the accumulation began in earnest. I liked our first place a lot, the little apartment where we lived with just Roy and Soba for a few years. It was nice and the clutter was at a minimum. I began to buy things I thought would please him, make him happy. Or maybe I always did that, took on the fashion and decorating style of whoever influenced me the most at the time. (I have a girlfriend who does this with music. One day she told me in a panic that she did not actually know what kind of music SHE liked. She'd always just listened to the musical choices of whatever boyfriend she had at the time. I hope I was kind to her when she confessed this to me, because I was in a similar panic the night I started at my Burke table for two hours wondering if it was actually my style or if I just bought it because it completed some picture of us as a couple.)

The last piece of mid-century modern furniture I bought was my sofa, and I bought it long after Mr. X moved out. It is the one single piece of furniture I love more than any other and I didn't buy it for its vintage coolness, I just bought it because I fell in love with it. It's a huge, long Vladmir Kagen style bent-leg sofa reupholstered in smooth cappucino brown ultrasuede. I love that sofa. It's warm and comfortable and inviting and that's the style I like. It was a start, anyway.

The decluttering process made me take an even more critical look at the junk I'd amassed. Did I love that vase or did I just buy it because it was on sale/was a name brand/fit the "look" I was trying to project? And who the hell tries to project an image at my age? At any age? Shouldn't home be your most real, most happy and comfortable space? Who has to be impressed with your house? After all, it's supposed to be both a reflection of your truest likes and a service to your most basic needs for shelter and comfort and happiness. Can those things be achieved by shopping to please someone else? Who is this someone else, anyway? And why have THEY been driving the car of MY life?

And that's kind of how I've happened upon what appears to be my own personal home design style, modern-hippie-Moroccan avec cat-hair ... with less clutter than I thought ever imaginable. (And I love my dorky windows with their faux artiness.) Maybe it's strange to be in your mid-thirties and only just now figuring out what your personal design style is. I don't know, I'm not sure I care. I'm just happy I'm figuring it out, whatever it is.

Posted by laurie at 6:55 AM

August 29, 2007

My favorite corner of the house

In this month of turning my rented house into an actual cozy home, I had to address the dining table situation.

My dining "room" is exactly 15 inches wide by four feet long. It isn't a real dining room, of course, or even a dining nook. This space sits at the end of the long living room (now with wood floors! love you, wood floors!) between the doorway to the hall and the kitchen wall. The kitchen in this house is so small there's barely room in it for a garbage can, and definitely no room for a table.

Toward the very end of my marriage I acquired a rockin' Burke tulip-base table and four star-based chairs (the graphic designers are all nodding right now, everyone is is going, "Burke? Star tulip whatsit? Huh ...?") but as much as I love that dining set, it's just too big for the house I'm in.

Blocking the flow of chi, and cats.

And along with its massive coolness factor this set is also old, built back in the days when Americans did not have such ample behinds for padding convenience. Do you see where this is going? While I love that Burke dining set and I appreciate its mid-century modern vibe, every time I sit in one of the chairs I worry it's getting tiny little stress cracks in the fiberglass and bringing down the resale value.

That's not very homey, homie. My expensive antique was basically a catch-all tabletop for mail and the chairs made excellent cat beds.

Finally, I realized this was just not good for my homey feng shui. I disassembled the table, packed it up and will decide what to do with it someday. Today is not that day. After months (and now years!) of aggressive decluttering, my house is really pared down (for me, let's be realistic here.) But I'm just not ready to decide what to do with the Burke dining set. I'm attached to it, it was the biggest purchase I made back when I was trying to make my home with Mr. X into a little shrine of married happiness and there's something sad and hopeful about that table and apparently I need more growthy before I know what the hell to do with it. Or therapy. Or wine!

For now, though, I wanted a small and cute and very affordable table and chair set just for the "dining room." My requirements: The new dining set had to be small but sturdy, inexpensive but not look cheap, and something I could haul home and assemble on my own.

I found it at Mecca. Um, I mean ... Target:

Even the painting is helpy. hehehehe
Thanks so much to reader Pam who found info about that painting online here for those who were asking. You'd think that as its owner I would have had more information but uh. Nope. Thanks, Pam!

This three-piece set has a round wooden table with adjustable fold-down sides and solid wood chairs. (In this image I have only one side of the table folded down, the side that is flush against the wall.) I got it on sale for $179. ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS. For all three pieces! Can you believe that? (It's not on sale on the website, but even at $229 it's a great value.) I often stress out about buying new stuff, since I think I should stop contributing to consumerism, I should be fiscally responsible, etc. etc. (See: "Still have not purchased coffee table.") but I did the math, and $179 is like a month and a half of smoking money ... so yay me for quitting smoking. (This is how I justify shoe purchases, too, in case you're wondering.)

And it's important to have a nice place to eat your dinner. If I have a big group of guests over we always eat outside at the long table on the covered patio, it's definitely the outdoor dining room. But for just me, I was tired of coming home and having dinner on a TV tray by the sofa or -- fine, I am admitting this -- eating standing up over the sink. YEAH I SAID IT. Total chick-flick movie freaking cliche ... you know those movies where they show the girl before she gets the makeover, sad and alone and eating dinner on the sofa, cue sad music. Then she gets a good makeup job and ditches the shlumpadinka clothes and she gets the guy and one can only assume dinner alone never happens. The end, cue montage and happy music.


The wood in this dining set ($179! For a whole table and two chairs! Still shocked!) is real wood, not pressed particle stuff, and the stain is a deep espresso color. The set is "counter height" which means it sits up higher than a regular dining table but it's slightly lower than pub table height. Most of the other tables I looked at were pub tables, and I'm about four inches too short to feel comfortable in those chairs.

My little three-piece dining set is sturdy, was very easy to assemble, and I got it home in the Jeep with just a little of it sticking out the back window. It doesn't have the coolness factor of the Burke dining set but let's be honest here, I am a divorced woman in my thirties who enjoys knitting, wine-drinking, and taking pictures of my extensive herd of cats. CAN I REALLY BE ANY COOLER? This dining set also fits perfectly in my space, and it feels really solid and -- most importantly -- it fits me and my full-butted American self! It's cozy for dinners for two people, and perfect for a nice dinner alone, too. For under $200. That is crazytalk.

Cue happy music!


Posted by laurie at 6:05 AM

August 28, 2007

Makes you want to jump up and slap somebody!

That title has nothing at all to do with today, but I was in the shower this morning thinking about how it's almost SEPTEMBER for crapsakes, and then I remembered I was going to be visiting Texas in October which is now just about six weeks away and that's how I started making a list of Southernisms I had not heard in far too long. One of which was of course, "Lawd that food is so good it makes you want to jump up and slap somebody!"

And then I started making a list of everything I plan to eat while I am in Texas. It's a rather long list for a two-day visit.

Anyway! So not the point!

I have a new friend, I met her at work. I actually met her years ago and we've worked at the same company all this time but I only recently got to spend time with her in a not-entirely-work setting and we discovered mutually that we're both of like mind, i.e. Not Very Corporate, but love working here all the same. And she's funny and warm and I love when you meet a new friend and have a girl-crush on them, it's so much fun getting to know someone new who you just click with.

Her name is also Jennifer which presents a number of problems from a storytelling perspective. I don't want her to be confused with Jennifer, who is off gallavanting around in South America with her boyfriend as we speak, but I can't refer to my new friend as New Jennifer. That implies there is an old Jennifer. And I think you know that would cross me right off the best friend list. As would identifiers such as "short Jennifer" and "tall Jennifer" or pretty much anything else that I can think of, so we'll call this new friend Work Jennifer or ...uh. Wennifer.

So Wen and I got to talking about driver's licenses and all the lies, LIES! we tell on our government documents. For example, did you know that I myself am officially 5 feet six inches tall and weigh a mere 125 pounds? Indeed! I am so tall and skinny!

And we got a good laugh out of that one.

Then Wen told me she was also much thinner on her Official Weight, and she said, "I think I put down 155. I can't remember." So she got out her purse and as we were chitchatting she got out her wallet and found her driver's license.

"Oh! Look! It's 154!" she said. "I've lost weight!"

And we both burst out laughing so loud we actually drew spectators from nearby offices.

"It appears that I thought 154 would be far more believable than 155," she said. "Apparently I was going for real truthfulness here."

Then I checked out her license -- which has a cute picture, damn her -- and that is when informed her I have The World's Worst Driver's License Photo Ever Taken, EVER. (It's so bad that I actually pre-selected an obit photo. Just in case.) Wen laughed at me, because I'm a jokester that way, but of course no one really believes I have THE worst official government photo ever taken in human history.

Until they see it.

At first I was horrified by my photo and tried very, very hard to hide it and never show it to people. I even tried to lose it but the damn thing kept popping back up. Eventually after time and wine, I began to see my photo as possibly one of the funniest things ever. I even considered setting up an online dating profile just to see who on earth would write THAT woman. Wen laughed at my embellishment ... it had to be embellishment, yes? So I showed her my picture.

Her exact response was, "Oh GOD. That's AWFUL. I'm so sorry!"

But maybe I am just embellishing. Maybe it's actually a cute, adorable picture and I'm so goofy that I can't see how sweet, young and pretty I look in it. Right? Right?



Well, perhaps the title of this column is more fitting than I realized. That photo does kind of make you want to jump up and slap somebody!

Posted by laurie at 6:31 AM

August 27, 2007

Burgers 'n Bikers

On Sunday I got invited to Faith's house for a cookout and birthday party for Michael, who shocked me by turning 40! He's far too babyfaced for 40.

Although ... I keep saying no one looks their age and I am starting to wonder what exactly does an age look like? Especially in Los Angeles where even your gardener gets a little work done. (Not that there's anything wrong with it! I'm totally getting my boobs done when they reach my waistband, so there.) Recently I was asked how old I am and I almost reverted back to the time between 2002-2004 when I lied about my age profusely to everyone, everywhere, all the time. I was maybe in denial of so many things such as "husband, not loving me" and "ass, getting larger" and also "me, so not 24 anymore." Anyway, I have grown so much since then and become very self-aware and enlightendish and so on and as God is my witness I did not REALLY lie about my age. I just whispered it. Very, very softly. Then I coughed. Then said, "Look! Fire engines!"

I am pathetic.

Motorcycles! And gosh. Burbank is GREEN.

"So, Faith, is anyone in this biking club cute?"

"Yes, they're all great guys!"

"Are they hot?"

"A lot of them."

I paused. "Nice, cute guys? They're all gay, aren't they?"


Also, later I learned it is not called a "biking club" but instead referred to as a "motorcycle gang." Tomato, tomahto!

Faith did such a good job grilling that I made her an honorary Southerner.

Pretty Jane and her adorable kid, Emmett.

OK, I really did want to steal this guy's dog, it was this adorable little black friendly puppy and I am very sure he would have fit in my purse. I have a pretty big purse. But I think they were on to me after I announced I was stealing him. Next time I'll be quieter.

Me and Justin Angel ... Matchy!

I had such a good time just hanging out and chitchatting with total strangers even though I did that thing where I nervously twitter to much about... Lord only know what. But because I was at Faith's house and knew a few of the folks there it was still comfortable and fun and no one seemed to mind too much that I was nervous talking. Even just a few months ago I would have gone home and berated myself for what ever dumb thing had escaped from my mouth but now I just don't bother, it's too exhausting. Life is short. Talking happens!

I spend a lot of time alone (another thing I used to feel bad about, always wondering why I wasn't like other people, with packed schedules and lots of social engagements) and I think maybe I have finally accepted that this is who I am. I love being alone. I was always a weird child, off in my own world, able to amuse myself way out in the country with no one nearby but my brothers who at that point were allergic to annoying weirdo sisters. When I was married it was easier to be less social, people seemed to expect less of me (as if having a husband were some form of completion.)

When I first moved out on my own I worried about becoming a total hermit. But I needed that time, and as my life got better and I got less puddled up I began to feel embarrassed for being so socially awkward, so reclusive. Had I made aloneness habitual? Was there something wrong with me? Shouldn't I be filling my free time with people and events like everyone else does? My girlfriends were always going out to clubs or bars or dinners or little get-togethers or playing tennis or meeting for this and that. I guess that's just not my movie, and I've stopped trying to hide it. I'm apparently someone who works better with solitude for recharging, thinking, resting, typing, reading, whatevering.

And it's the time I spend alone that makes me enjoy other people's company so much when we do get together. I loved seeing Jane and her husband El Rabbi and their baby and catching up on our mutual friends and I was so happy that Charlie remembered me (I've met him like six times but somehow I always think people don't see me) and it was so much fun watching Faith master that big gas grill! Justin was a perfect host-helper, too, Lord that man ought to make a business out of being an event planner. And I got to see Michael blow out the candles on his 40th birthday cookie. It was awesome.

I'm really lucky to have friends who invite me to their birthdays and backyard get-togethers. I'm lucky to know people who don't seem to mind one bit that I just chatter on nervously sometimes or that I'm not the most social of butterflies.

I'm also lucky to have friends who just ignore me when I start telling the guests I'm meeting for the first time that I'm 28. Or was it 26? Tomato, tomahto!


Posted by laurie at 6:28 AM

August 24, 2007

The floors, the floors.... the scary, scary floors.

The one thing I have hated most about this house are the floors. Specifically, the horrible ugly poop-brown sculpted hi-lo shag.


If you think about it long enough, you, too, will be grossed out beyond all redemption. See, sculpted hi-lo shag has not been in style since the 70s. And even with a generous time allowance, this particular type of carpet hasn't been sold in stores since the late 1970s. Which means by my calculations, it is at least 35 years old. IF NOT OLDER. And it has seen how many rental tenants...? And their pets? And children? And possibly not all of them have had the attention to Dysoning that I have...? It is enough to make your skin crawl and drive you to pick up the phone and call the steam cleaners once again.

Not that it helps. I've had the carpets steam-cleaned twice and the owner had them done once. But even with three deep cleans the carpet is an eyesore at best, a health hazard at worst. I really, really hated the carpet.

After a few months of living here I was moving boxes around (oh, that whole time of my life will be known as "divorce - smoking - clutter" always moving a damn stack of boxes somewhere...) and I noticed the carpet was pulling up at one edge. Always a glutton for punishment, I pulled the edge up to see what horrors were lying underneath.

I was SHOCKED! This house appeared to have gorgeous original oak floors under the carpetrocity. Floors that had likely been covered in said brown carpet since the early 1970s, and maybe even long before that.

I tried wheedling the owner into hiring a guy to re-do the floors, but he wouldn't go for the price. "Find me someone cheaper..." he said, over and over again. (There was no one cheaper.) The landlord finally said he didn't care if I paid to pull up the shag but he sure wasn't paying for someone to come and refinish the floors professionally.

[I'd like to pause here and thank you in advance for offering to research all the ways he's slumlording in violation of so-and-so code. Thanks, man! I know you got my back. But this is Los Angeles. Finding a cute house in a safe part of town that accepts multiples of cats and rents for under $2000 a month is like... like finding a gorgeous naked man scrubbing your toilets on a Sunday. Tres impossible.]

In this city you take what you can get, uglyass carpet and all.


I desperately wanted to have wood floors in the living room but I knew I would have to do A LOT of decluttering before I could have people in to do the floors, even if I found a guy who'd work for next-to-nothing. Just six or eight months ago it would have been a full day's work to move stuff out of the living room, last year it would have been impossible.

Time passed, and life got crazy, and floors weren't the top priority. Clean laundry became a much more urgent need, and also "meeting deadlines" and "arriving to work to bring home bacon, fry in pan" and so on. But once things began to settle down and my insomnia returned full-time in late July, I found myself alone at 2 a.m. fixating on the carpet again. My clutter level had reached an all-time low. I had also gotten to an almost-but-not-quite-all-time low, personally, and needed to make some changes. I'd started thinking maybe I should stop waiting for conditions to be right to actually move in, make a home, have a lovely little space, live my life to the fullest. And I knew someone who was crazy enough to work not just for cheap, but totally free.

Me, of course.

In my defense, I am practically an expert in home repairs. Over the years, I have watched at least five bazillion hours of HGTV programming! Surely that investment of time combined with my extensive knowledge of cuteness levels of Home Depot employees makes me an expert at home improvement do it yourselfery. I mean really now.

And that is how I decided to embark upon what might be The Worst Project Ever. (Or, you know, maybe it would be OK.) I made an $8.65 investment in a tackstrip-removing tool, pulled out my gloves, pliers, vacuum, sense of humor, sense of adventure, aspirin, face mask and studiously set upon bringing sexy floors back.


My strategy was fairly boneheaded and simple: Pull up the tackstrips slowly over a period of a week by pulling back the edges of the disgusting carpet and removing a tackstrip or two. I figured this would make the hideous tackstrip removal less annoying, spreading it out and multitasking it while the TV was on at night after work. Then I planned to spend a weekend day removing the carpet and underpad, and cleaning the floor with a round of hands-and-knees scrubbing with warm water and an enzymatic powder (to remove ick and proteins, please don't think to long on this one) and follow it up with several good moppings of linseed floor wash.

The most important step involved two glasses of wine and a decision to hold out HOPE. Hope that whatever was underneath the carpet wasn't horrifying. (There was a point midway through the process when I hadn't yet pulled up the carpet and I confided to a friend that my greatest fear in this Do-It-Yourselfathon was that I would uncover the chalk outline of a crime scene in the middle of the floor. Hey, guess who's seen too much CSI! Three guesses!)

Here is the room before carpet removal, this photo shows the big Ikea rug in the middle of the floor. Notice that nearly six months after I sold my old coffee table in the yard sale I still have not bought a new coffee table. Le sigh:


And a picture without the rug concealing the carpet:


The biggest obstacle standing between me and wood floors was no longer clutter removal or time, it was the loathsome, dreaded tackstrips. Furthermore, I have discovered along the way that I HATE TACKSTRIPS. Whoever laid the carpet in this house some century and a half ago was not messing around with the tackstrips. I started at one corner of the living room and each night after work I would carefully remove a tackstrip or two, then fold the carpet back down over the area and move on to a new quadrant of horror.


The key to this job is to work slowly and carefully, wedging the tool beneath the strip and slowly prying it up nail by nail. I was surprised how fulfilling it was to remove each strip, I felt like I was channeling Bob Vila, showing off my Southern ingenuity, and also, you can drink wine simultaneously if you work slow enough!

Despite the repeated steam-cleaning and the massive amount of vacuuming I do here at Chez Furball, there was a layer of dirt and detritus underneath the entire carpet pad. It was ancient dirt. Perhaps even prehistoric:


I got all the tackstrips removed last Friday night and spent the weekend pulling up and removing the carpet and cleaning the exposed floors. (For this job, I put the cats in the other part of the house and closed the hall door which leads to the living room. I did not need that amount of feline assistance.)

I will not lie to you, removing the carpet and cleaning the floor and baseboards was sweaty, exhausting work. It was also AWESOME. Every time I got tired and wanted to rest alone in a big glass of wine far away from the hellhole of home, I would find a new horror and get inspired all over again to get rid of the shag. And I believe this speaks for itself:


Brilliant me undertook this adventure fully on my own. I also didn't tell many people about my big project because I am sensitive to the amount of advice folks love to give, advice which usually involves doing things in some way other than the way my stubborn little brain has decided to do the job. I can be hardheaded like nobody's business. Plus, if I decided halfway through the process to change my mind I wasn't accountable to anyone but me (hey, it could have happened.)

And aside from my fears of unearthing a crime scene (which would've made a heckuva story, I tell you what) this harebrained project of mine was kind of empowering. I think women have a better attention to detail than men do, and so I was extra-careful with the tackstrips and left the most tiny, barely visible holes. I had to be smart about moving the furniture so I didn't end up in traction, and I decided to divide the room into three segments of work. To remove the carpet, I cut it in manageable strips and got it all out of the house by myself. There's something really rewarding about sweaty manual labor, and the fact that I did it entirely by myself gave me the "I am sweaty, hear me roar!" feeling.

Not bad for a Sunday afternoon:




This part of the job took me about nine full hours of labor: pulling up and removing the carpet, moving the furniture around, scrubbing each section of floor with enzymes, letting it dry and mopping it with the linseed floor wash. In addition, I spent roughly five hours removing the tackstrips and staples on the floor. The total amount I spent on supplies was a very affordable $14.86.

By the time I finished on Sunday night it was almost 11 p.m. and I was dirty, sweaty, aching and exhausted. Therefore, I did not take a picture of the floor without the rug because I was smelly, see above, and the cats were refusing to walk on the floor like normal until I put the rug back down. Weirdos. However, I assure you there was no crime scene underneath the carpet, just lovely oak floors.

Here is my living room on Monday morning after I took two Motrin and hobbled out of bed like a hunchback:


Well worth it!


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Edited to add a few notes: To clean the dirt and proteins and general scum, I used Ecover enzymatic laundry powder dissolved in lukewarm water. Very cold or hot water can warp the floors, so it's important to use lukewarm water. I used a scrub brush and a bucket of the soapy water and washed the floor in segments. As soon as I scrubbed an area, I cleaned the soap off with old towels that had been dampened in water and well wrung-out.

For the general mopping, I used Ecover Floor Soap, which has linseed oil in it to feed and shine up the floors. You could also use Murphy's Oil Soap. Two capfuls of floor wash in a bucket of lukewarm water cleaned the floor with a basic sponge mop. Rinse, wash, repeat. And repeat again!

Posted by laurie at 6:00 AM

August 23, 2007

Thursday Top Five(ish)

1) News from the brain front is looking very good! Evan came out of surgery and is recovering. You can follow his progress on mom Allison's website. My inner hippie truly believes that thoughts and vibes and prayers help, and I thank you. Later my inner hippie will reminisce about that year when I wore nothing but broomstick skirts and earth shoes and went a full eight days without shaving my legs before my inner Sorority Girl kicked in. THANK GOD.

And thank you again :)

2) I have finally recovered enough from my weekend of home improvement -- yes, last weekend -- to type up the whole story of how I communed with 60 years of dust mites and did so much manual labor I had ACTUAL BLISTERS. On my hands. In fact, for four days my hands were too tired to type, so most of this week I have sent emails such as "Ok sound gud" and "Hi, send monkeys."

Anyway, look forward to reading about the possibly most ambitious thing I have ever undertaken in a home improvement setting, all revealed tomorrow. Today I am still trying to find the right precautionary statement to adhere to this story ... something like, "The Surgeon General has determined that home improvement can make you happy and hurty in equal amounts!"

3) She really hates being left alone in a house full of cats all day.


4) Did you notice the very exciting "Coming Soon! Win Stuff" graphic there on the right side of the page? Looks like Tom is going to try to grab the booty for Jane. That Tom, always trying to grab the booty. I love sweepstakes, but especially this one because I get to draw the names out of the proverbial hat. AND I already know what the prizes are! You can start your engines on September 4... cats everywhere are dreading this sweepstakes. I am just saying is all.

5) Hurricane season is here. I have not heard the word "Yucatan" so many times in my life. If you say it long enough, it sounds like a cross between a banana and an allergic reaction to soup. "Yucatan!" "Yucatan!" I might start saying it instead of "Salud!" Like I need more quirks.

6) Speaking of quirks.

Tuesday at 11 a.m.: Receive PDF of book back cover copy. Send two changes to editor Allison (not to be confused with Evan's mom Allison. I am no longer accepting friends named Allison or Sara or Jennifer, by the way. Lots of space for Emilys and Robertas, though!)

Tuesday, 11:22 a.m.: Re-read back cover copy. Wonder why the word "neurotic" keeps coming back to describe me. I am SO not neurotic!

Tuesday, 11:24 a.m.: Am I neurotic?

Tuesday, 11:24:32 a.m.: I am totally not neurotic. I'm colorful. I'm Southern for chrissakes. We're hardy, hearty, hardyharhar types. That is totally NOT neurotic.

Tuesday, 11:25 a.m.: Call Drew to make him tell me I am definitely NOT neurotic.

Tuesday, 11:34 a.m. - Wednesday 6:12 a.m: Worry about the word neurotic being inserted repeatedly by my friends at HCI who LOVE me and also are the LIFE ISSUES publisher and do they know something I do not know and why does this word keep showing up? It's like the leopard kleenex cozy! Geez!

Wednesday, 6:14 a.m.: Call Allison (in my defense, she's on the East Coast, OK?) and leave long message hoping it isn't too late to remove the word "neurotic" from back cover copy because clearly am not neurotic. Really now.

Wednesday, 7:10 a.m.: Still have not heard back, send follow up email. Not being neurotic, merely being my Southern businesslike and expedient self.

Wednesday, 7:32 a.m.: Allison leaves voicemail saying yes we can remove it and also, when she writes her expose on the publishing industry, can she use this story of the time an author badgered her neurotically to remove the word "neurotic" from back cover copy?


- - -

So, have a lovely, healthy, inner-hippie-lovin' non-neurotic rest of your day. I will just be over here patting myself on the back for being so...uh. Businesslike and expedient.


Posted by laurie at 6:12 AM

August 22, 2007


You can catch up on the news of Allison, Jeff and lil' Evan at Allison's website. He's in surgery now and she is posting reports as they come in.

Posted by laurie at 6:21 AM

August 21, 2007

Getting a jump start on good vibes...

Focus intently on this little face:


Tomorrow is Evan's brain surgery, scheduled for the morning. Evan is my lovely friend Allison's son and she and her husband Jeff are in Phoenix right now holding it all together. Surely the collective good vibes of the innernet can help them all through the next 48 hours. So concentrate! Focus, people! Exude health, happiness, smiling, giggling, first-grade little boy farting jokes, Superman lunchboxes, first bicycles, grubby jeans, spelling bees, hockey games, dating, the teenage angst, wanting to paint his room black, learner's permits, dating a girl with an earring in her eyebrow, driving the parents' car and returning it with a dent in the fender, going to college, graduating, becoming ... anything at all he wants to be.

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. I love Allison and Jeff and Evan and hope they are all smiling soon and that one day this will all be a distant memory, far eclipsed by their son wanting to paint his room black and get a nose ring.

Posted by laurie at 5:59 AM

August 20, 2007

Knitting? On a Monday? In the summertime? Are you insane?

Apparently, yes. I am insane.

I am SO GLAD I brought my knitting bag on the bus this morning. Traffic was at less than a crawl, in some places I was certain we were moving backwards. In Los Angeles when you see helicopters hovering over the 101 at rush hour, you can safely assume you have a lot of time for becoming one with the bus seat ... and for knitting up a scarf!


This is one of my favorite Patons yarns, Patons Rumor. It's very soft and comes in funky twisted-together colors and did I mention it is very, very soft? The label says it is 84% Acrylic, 15% Alpaca and 1% Polyester. The only downside to this yarn is that you need a lint roller from head to toe after you knit with it, I felt like I'd just rolled around in a pile of long-haired Himalayan cats when I got off the bus. Hello, work! I am very professional... and hairy!

Main color "Spanish Heather" with contrast stripes in "Duberry Heather."

This is a very simple, very wide rib stitch. Cast on 26 stitches, knit 2, purl 6 all the way across (and end with knit 2). Then on the flipside you do... the flip-side: purl 2, knit 6 all the way across, end on purl 2. It created the illusion of mostly stockinette without the extreme rolling you get with stockinette stich. It does roll, don't get me wrong, but not into a full tube o' scarf.

Oh, and since I am a SupaTight Knitter™ I'm knitting this scarf on size 11 needles, but you might be normal and only need a size 10. or 9. Whatever!

The most awesome part of the scarf is the striping. If you read The DaVinci Code you might remember where one of the characters mentions the mystical balanced mathematical concept behind the world's great art. It had something to do with blah blah blah. Anyway, I had Drew explain it to me and I'm following the pattern for striping this scarf and it's turning out awesome. Of course, I've gotten to a place where I have begun to improvise (Lord why can't I follow even a pattern that I wanted to follow? why?) I guess I got bored somewhere around Sunset Blvd. and started fiddling with it. I think it will turn out OK, though. Once I'm all done with this scarf I'll post a whole pattern and Drew's super-stripey explanation.

In other news, my new assistant has vanished. I am blaming his disappearance on another equally be-tied coworker:



Posted by laurie at 5:47 AM

August 17, 2007

It's not really about changing the air filters.

Last night I was in the Jeep, windows down, it was hot but late enough to be out running errands without sweating all the way through my clothes, and anyway I was driving to the Home Depot for replacement furnace filters. Not exactly glamorous.

The house I'm in is so old that even the size dimensions of the furnace filters went out of style in 1960, and now the only place I can find them is at Home Depot. I also need to look for an inexpensive grout-remover tool thingamajig. In other places they may call these tools by such names as "butter knife" or "screwdriver" but I like to have a specific tool for a job like that. Well, only if I can get it for five bucks or less. Butter knives are cheap.

So I was thinking about air filters and grout and that was the exact moment I remembered, out loud to myself, that it's not just about home improvement. It really has nothing at all to do with pre-shopping for an upcoming weekend of cleaning and furniture arranging and maybe finally hanging a picture on the wall. It's about deciding every single day that I am worth a clean air filter, and that I am not waiting until some unspecified day in the far-away (but so easily fantasized about) future when things are perfect and I get on with the business of having a great life and living in a house with pictures on the wall.

Drew once told me that if you show up for a thing, your effort sends a powerful message. I guess it's like a memo in triplicate to the Universe/Cannoli. "I am showing up for happiness in my life."

He reminded me that by just placing yourself on the right path and walking in its direction, even little steps, it sends out positive ripples into your life like a pebble in a pond.

I like that theory. I know it's not just air filters and grout and baking soda cleaning concoctions. It's the effort put toward a well-appointed, well-loved space.

That's got to be on the right path.

Have a great weekend. You know where I'll be ... in my house, trying to make the life I was waiting for. FILM FOOTAGE AT ELEVEN!

cat baths are rough

Posted by laurie at 6:37 AM

August 16, 2007

Worry worry super-scurry

Since I had begun to worry about the amount of worrying I am doing, last night I made the radical decision to do something about all of my worries at one time.

My coterie of skills as a human being were reviewed to see which one in particular might solve my worrying problem. The skill that came to mind most prominently was my awesome power of procrastination. I am in fact the finest procrastinator on the planet. This skill of mine is often disguised as leftbrainedness, or forgetfullness, or blondeness, or fear, but I am indeed at my core a pure and simple procrastinator.

I figured that since God gave me this skill, I should actually use it for good instead of evil. Therefore, I have now decided that I am going to fully postpone all nuisance worrying until November 1, 2007 at 9 p.m. in the evening. Between now and then I can put things on a worry list to refer to at the appointed time or I can just dismiss the nuisance worries altogether, procrastinating fully until the day I can worry about them earnestly and with vigorous anxiety.

I got this idea from earlier successes using procrastination as a major life-skills tool. (Look out, Dr. Phil. You may have down-home aw-shuckism and logic and "character building" stuff in your repertoire, but I have THE POWER OF PROCRASTINATION.) Maybe that's my next book: The Seven Habits of Highly Lazy Neurotics. Sure, the book only discusses Habit One but then there are cat pictures...


Anyway! This awesome life-skills strategy of Highly Focused Procrastination has worked for me in the past with my tendency to fear I might come down with various imaginary diseases, such as Monkeypox or flesh-eating bacteria. (I never worried I actually had contracted a malady. That would be some other -ism, or -chondria issue. No, I have the constitution of a horse, am very sturdy and rarely get sick. But there was always the fear of exotic illness, you see, for my little challenge is my tendency to worry about unseen future events.) For a while on the news there was a story every few days about flesh-eating disease and how nice, normal, unsuspecting folks would get a little cut or a pimple and before you knew it THEY HAD THE FLESH EATING BACTERIA!!! They were being eaten alive!!! By their own bodies!!!!!

For several weeks I had to scrutinize each blemish and imperfection carefully for signs of FLESH EATING ACTIVITY!!! Until SARS came along. Or was it Anthrax? Back when I was married, I was writing for a teen online magazine and I got of lot of mail (I was just as bad then as I am now with the mail, of course) and I would go pick it up from the mailbox place in a big box and carry it home. It was always nice mail, happy mail ... until Anthrax came along then it had the POWER TO KILL ME.

I remember during that time specifically picking out a cute picture of myself and giving it to Mr. X and making him solemnly swear to use it in my obituary in case I opened a pink sparkly letter from an alleged teenage girl in Wisconsin and then died of Anthrax poisoning. I was very worried about THE PICTURE IN MY OBITUARY. In my defense, you would understand that this is a real and pertinent fear if you've ever seen my driver's license photo. It is horrible. It's so bad that I always ALWAYS win the "Who has the worst DMV photo?" contest. In my state-issued photograph I am a color of orange that doesn't even occur in nature. The flash and excellent photo-taking skills of our California Van Nuys Civil Servants conspired to make me look like a cross between Eileen Wuornos, Portrait Of A Serial Killer, and ... Yoda.

The photo was a very serious matter.

So we all had a few laughs about my Anthrax Obituary Photo, pre-selected by me, also known forevermore as "No, I am Not Vain Thanyouverymuch. I am Just A Very Good Planner." Ah, the laughs. I enjoy making people laugh.

Then I made him sign a document swearing he'd use that photo. A girl has to keep an eye on these things, you see.

But since no husbands current or ex can be counted on to get the photo right, over time I developed an awesome little trick for dealing with things such as SARS and Anthrax poisoning and also any weird aches or sniffles or whatever. If I noticed one day that something was wrong with the ol' body electric (just a little wrong, you know, not the "I am bleeding out of one eyeball" kind of wrong) I would think, "Ok, today is Tuesday. If this (insert ailment here) isn't better in five days I will go see a doctor." And sure enough in five days whatever was wrong had either healed or vanished. Magic! Procrastination put to awesome beneficial use!

[The things I tell you people. It's kind of like watching Jerry Springer, right? Now you feel much more mentally balanced, because hey ... you at least aren't preparing for your Anthrax-related obituary. Rock on with your well-balanced self!]

I figure this Wait Five Days And Then Worry strategy worked so well on physical ailments that a modified version would work on my worry ailments. Therefore, I am not going to worry about a damn thing until November 1, 2007 at 9 p.m.

See you then, suckers! Bring chocolate! Bring Kleenex! Bring Valium! Bring wine!

And feel free to bring along any pre-selected photos in case all the worrying is fatal. It never hurts to plan ahead.

Posted by laurie at 5:45 AM

August 15, 2007

Only the good die young. Except for the peppers...

One of the things I am trying to work on right now is to stop worrying about events that have not even happened yet. This has nothing at all to do with gardening. But if you could play back the chatter that goes on in my mind on a tape recorder, it would sound like a continual rehashing of events that have not yet transpired. As if worry can stave off future evil.

I maybe am crazy.

In other news, these guys wanted to hop on the Karmic wheel sooner than I expected:


That's Rosemary and Oregano, deader than last year's tomato plants. They developed some weird infestation of flying bugs and the person in charge of watering these plants got grossed out because everytime she would water them the bugs would fly up. She is maybe fired from gardening.

Except she's done an awesome job on the plants that sit near the sprinklers and get regular waterings, such as ... marjoram?

It is dark at 5 a.m. and spooky.

Yes, that is the largest marjoram plant I have ever seen and I am growing it in my backyard. It's lovely and smells amazing. This little plant was a freebie last-minute grab (it was one of those "buy five herbs get the sixth seedling free" things) and it's grown and quadubiliionupled in size and I have no idea what do do with a bushel of marjoram so if you have any ideas ... please share!

My lone bell pepper is rockin' the Christmas colors:


And the other peppers, my Dad's Chili Pequin babies, are doing really great! I planted them in all areas of the yard, both in pots and in the ground. The ones in the shaded pots and the raised beds are doing great, the plants in full sun and even partial-plus-sun either died or shriveled up. California has really intense sun, it's not like other places I've lived. Maybe our protective coating of smog intensifies the sun's something-or-other.

Peppers en masse:


Look, little green pequins!


I haven't spent much time at all in the yard the past couple of weeks, it's been scorching on the weekends or I've been tied up with other things, and it's scary with all the zucchini. And of course I have had to attend to all my imaginary worrying about future events that have not even yet taken place.

But with Francisco gone, the yard is surprisingly lush and low-maintenance. I don't know how one man could make so much go wrong in one yard but Lord he did have a talent for killing things.

Perhaps he snuck in for one last go at those rosemary and the oregano? Perhaps?


Posted by laurie at 6:58 AM

August 14, 2007

Hello, Tuesday!

We have arrived at that most uncomfortable portion of the summer that I often refer to as "Why the hell don't I live in Norway?" I love the Valley, I truly do, but on days when it's 106 degrees in the shade it's hard to have the energy to even complain ... and ya'll know complaining is my primary way of burning calories. When it's this hot I'm practically missing my cardio.

Over the weekend I got to hang out with Allison and Faith, chitchatting and visiting and making little squares for the blanket Allison is taking to the hospital when Evan gets his surgery. I can't believe it's just a week and a day away. Please keep that little family in your thoughts.

Two of my awesomest friends. Awesomest is SO a word.

The first square I made was a plain stockinette thing, and Faith had to crochet a border on it because of my rockin' powers of SupaTight Knitting™ (we all joked later that I had created an impermeable barrier of stockinette... no water will penetrate! no cold air can break through! nothing will pass through my impermeable barrier of stockinette!) And even though people try to tell me all the ways to loosen up (heh) I will admit to secretly enjoying being the World's Tightest Knitter. It makes me feel in control of the yarn, and for Control Enthusiasts everywhere this sentiment will ring a bell and make you say amen.

For other people, those with less issues, please judge silently to yourselves.

And then Allison gave me a little skein of Mission Falls wool in a pretty green to make another square for the blanket and I went up a needle size (again) to a size 9 (I would probably have to go up to an 11 to make gauge) (hee!) and I decided to get really buckwild crazy and make a Magic Scarf type of square, but instead of alternating blocks of stockinette, I'm doing this one with blocks of stockinette and blocks of seed stitch:

This is my first time knitting with Mission Falls wool, and I am a total convert. This yarn is so soft!

It's the same concept as the Magic Scarf, but instead of stacking up blocks of stockinette and reverse stockinette stitch, you add in alternating blocks of seed stitch (here I'm doing: Purl 1, Knit 1, Purl 1, Knit 1, Purl 1). It's very easy but gives this square a really neat texture. I think I'm going to try this on very bulky (but not fuzzy) yarn and see how it looks bigger, in a scarf. I love me a scarf. It's just a swatch, but longer!

Close up, with weird color (thanks, close-up lens):

Of course, thanks to my issues, this square also needs a crochet border. I do not know how to make a crochet border, so I'll either have to magically learn this evening or magically appear on Faith's doorstep. Hi! Howya doing! Want to crochet a border for me?

Knitting just a little bit of blanket reminded me how much I miss knitting. I hope it gets cold soon. Sweating on wool is bad news. Of course, if you're me, it's an impermeable barrier of wool...

Posted by laurie at 9:10 AM

August 9, 2007

Shaken and not stirred at all, actually

Apparently we had an earthquake last night that rattled people awake all across the valley. I don't think I felt it. Well, to be more accurate, I might be immune to real earthquakes (at least those registering under a 5.0) because I usually think we're having an earthquake every single night and it ends up being nothing more than a Bobquake. The bed shimmies and shakes when he jumps on it, and everyone just shoots him a dirty look and goes back to sleep.

Bob doesn't miss a lot of meals.


In other news, no one at work believed me and my "I cannot go into the back-backyard anymore for fear of being kidnapped and eaten by giant mutant squash help me." They thought I was doing that thing where I'm just being all dramatic and they ignored me.

So this morning I carried an eleventy-eight pound example in to the office. I thought people would get scared and run. I totally underestimated the efficiency of my workplace! Even though budgets are tight, it appears he has been assimilated and is learning how to work the copy machine. Apparently he doesn't talk back as much as I do and he works for less money.


If I think he's starting to get cozy in my office, though, I will not hesitate to break out the salt, pepper and olive oil. Ambitious jerk won't even see it coming...

Posted by laurie at 9:49 AM

August 8, 2007

Knitting vicariously through books...

One of my favorite dorky activities is living vicariously through knitting books. They're kind of like porn. And in the summer when it's so hot and I'm so currently obsessed with home improvement, I have not been a very productive knitter (I did swatch that awesome Ozark Handspun yarn, it's so FURRY. I wonder if I will wear that scarf and be mistaken for wearing a furry animal around my neck?) but I still love looking through knitting books, flipping through their glossy gorgeous pages and making plans for winter nights and hot adult beverages.

My two current favorite books just came out in the past few weeks:


That's Annie Modesitt's Romantic Hand Knits there on the left and the Yarn Girls' Guide To Knits For All Seasons on the right.

First up: Annie Modesitt's Romantic Hand Knits

This is hands-down by far my most favorite of all Annie's books. IT IS GORGEOUS! I love the knitted silk stockings and the tips on embroidery (everyone I know is taking up embroidery ... I learned as a little girl, but I definitely need a refresher course) and Annie's trademark fitted styles are photographed throughout the whole book in lush, amazing images.

Annie always shapes her garments to fit women with curves. I know that there are three women in my Stitch 'n Bitch group who could pull this dress off and look super hot:

Sara, Cory and Denise... I am talking to YOU.

And this little sweater is the perfect shape for my shape:

Annie is also an expert hatmaker and this book has tips on making hats, along with crochet tips and those amazing silk hand-knit stockings. It's a beautiful, amazing book. I love it!

Next: The Yarn Girls' Guide To Knits For All Seasons
The Yarn Girls' books are some of my favorite knitting books. I know that if I ever attempt to make my very first sweater, it will be a Yarn Girls' sweater. Their explanations are clear and make sense to even a math-challenged individual such as myself, and they make knitting seem completely do-able and relaxing.

This in fact is the very sweater I would knit first time out of the barn:

And I am definitely making this shawl, I love it and it's my favorite stitch combo of knits and yarnovers:

I love the super-cute guy sweaters in this book, too. You'll have to excuse my awful picture-taking but I was a little sleep-deprived and hadn't yet been fully caffeinated when I took these images, but both books are full of cuteness. I love knitting books the way some folks like coffee table art books. They're the perfect combination of craft and ... yarn porn. hee.

And because I got these books as review copies, I thought I would share the love and give them both to the first person who posts that they really, really REALLY want these awesome books. Happy Wednesday! EDITED TO ADD: Jules was first! Yay for free books!

Posted by laurie at 11:06 AM

August 6, 2007

Excellent organizational help is so easy to find...

The weekend was awesome. I saw a movie with Faith (Jason Bourne, call me! Love you!), walked around Urban Home in Sherman Oaks for inspiration and actually got some house-to-home work done without it feeling like dreadful work.

More often than not I start a home improvement (or cleaning) project and get distracted by organizing a row of books or painting my toenails or trying on clothes which reminds me... do I still fit in that one coat I bought at that place that time? Then I try on the coat which then reminds me to turn up the A/C which reminds me to buy air filters which reminds me I wanted to go to Target and get a duster.


And back when I was married I would often hate coming home, knowing it was my JOB, my DUTY to clean the kitchen and bathrooms and do the laundry and make dinner and frankly I dreaded it at times. Housekeeping was just another chore, another item on my resented to-do list.

So to help me out on my monthlong adventure in Home Lovin', I decided to give myself a break right from the gitgo. I'll just admit right now to God And Everyone that I'm never going to be the most perfect housekeeper and there will always be someone out there with a prettier, lovelier, cleaner home. After all, I do have three cats who decorate my house daily with a fine patina of cat hair. So I just want to do the best I can with what I've got and really try to enjoy it, and if I desperately need to paint my toenails bright pink and fantasize about Jason Bourne while the sink soaks, I plan on doing just that!


Posted by laurie at 11:17 AM

August 3, 2007

How Clean Is YOUR House?

Drew has gotten me completely hooked on this television show called "How Clean Is Your House?" It comes on the BBC America channel and I have it set on the Tivo so I get three whole episodes a day and I am addicted now. ADDICTED.

If you have never seen the show, I will give you a brief description: There are two lovely proper English ladies who go to messy houses in the UK. These are REALLY messy homes, usually stocked with clutter and unkempt for years on end. The folks who live in these house often embody the exact pictures of my Fear Life, the life with all the clutter and detritus. (Also in the show the hostesses use the word "detritus" and I think I am kind of in love with the way the British speak. They could say "this is a poop sandwich" and it would still sound very posh.)

The hostesses, Kim and Aggie, gross out over the dirt and grime, run lab tests to see what sort of deathly bacteria are on the countertops and sinks and then with the aid of a whole team of cleaners they get the place in super-clean and tidy shape. The transformations are miraculous. It's not a makeover show with all new furniture and decor -- it's just the cleanest, most uncluttered picture of the house using its current conditions. Then in a follow-up piece (which you see at the end of each episode) Kim and Aggie return to the home in two weeks' time to see if the offending parties have kept the household clean.

If you are squeamish, DO NOT watch this show while attempting to eat dinner. Nosiree, Bob. These are dirty, grimy houses.

Drew had been telling me about this show for weeks on end when I finally decided to watch an episode just so he'd stop mentioning it. Sometime in mid-July I set the Tivo (FINE DREW I WILL WATCH YOUR SHOW OK) and it recorded three half-hour episodes. The next night I went home and watched it. I'm a good best friend.

Midway through the second episode, I had to pause the Tivo and go scour and clean my sink. I am not lying to you. I HAD TO SCOUR MY SINK IMMEDIATELY. (And I do not think I need to tell you I am not under normal circumstances a person who comes home after ten hours at work and just gets her relaxation on with a scrub brush. Unless by "scrub brush" you mean "wine glass.")

Anyway, now I am completely addicted to this show and it has truly been a lifesaver. In the same way that looking at books of beautiful, decorated houses inspires me to have a beautiful house, watching this show inspires me to clean. It also put the fear of God in you, appealing to my germaphobia and needing to REALLY get that sink clean. And in a quirky twist of fate, I have always found that maniacal cleaning is an excellent distraction technique. When I started watching this show two weeks ago, I was shocked and kind of enthralled and also somewhat spiritually comatose. Cleaning felt like action, and action felt better than being morose.

I think that cleaning can be a form of active meditation. Now, don't get me wrong ... there is nothing at all stress-relieving about cleaning up a messy, cluttered house for unexpected guests when you have been on deadline for a bazillion weeks while working long hours at the Real Job and commuting and being crazy and so on. At those times you want to hide under the covers and make sweet love to a gin and tonic.

But when you have a Sunday morning to yourself, and it's not hot yet outside and the windows are open and the breeze is nice and you have on some music or maybe a book-on-CD or maybe just silence, and it's just you and a single cleaning project ... well, that's when the act of cleaning becomes more than a to-do list item. It's accomplishment and activity and self-care all in one. This is the same reason I love knitting, because it can be a form of active meditation, too, and I have always loved sewing for the same peaceful freedom from my own thoughts and worries. Intense concentration on one action, one very productive action, is something I just lose myself in.

I think sometimes I forget to put "cleaning" on the list of activities that zen me out because I often associate it with duty and work. But cleaning, when it's just for the sheer joy of a pretty sink or a sparkling fridge or a single shiny pane of window glass, can be happiness and meditation all in one. (This works particularly well for those of who who find sitting still and meditating a near impossible task.)

The best part about "How Clean Is Your House" is that they give you all sorts of hints on how to use natural things around the house as cleaners. Hostesses Kim and Aggie use a LOT of lemon juice and vinegar and plain old table salt and baking soda. (They are so adorably British and kept saying "bicarbonate of soda" and crackerass me was wondering what the heck bicarbonate of soda was... was it coca cola? Was it something only British folks had? Then I had a DUH moment. It is baking soda.)

Anyway, I had no idea you could clean the copper bottom of a pot with a lemon and some salt! Or remove rust with a potato and some salt. I also didn't know about running vinegar through the coffee pot -- how did I not know about that? -- to clean it and disinfect it naturally.

Mainly I love this show because it reminds me on a daily basis how I want to live and how I definitely do not want to live. One of the side effects of bringing the clutter level way down is that you can simultaneously bring the tidy level way up. It's hard to keep a clean house when half of the surfaces are under an avalanche of stuff. Decluttering and cleaning go neatly (!) hand in hand.

And living in a clean space isn't just beneficial for your physical health. For me it's a huge mental shift. Living in a clean house is a little gift every day to me and the furballs. My environment always seems to reflect my mental state (when I first went through my divorce, Shannon came over one night and saw the complete disarray and said, "Yes. This is the house of a terrible divorce." No judgment, just the truth. We laughed. Then I probably cried, and we drank wine. Ya'll understand.)

But a few weeks ago I began to wonder, what if I want to change the inside of me by changing my environment? Is that possible? Instead of being a reflection, can it be a catalyst? Then Drew got me hooked on this show. And now it's August and cleaning has already commenced! My goal is to deep clean every room of this house during the month. I work long hours during the week so my deep-cleans can reasonably only happen on the weekends. There are four weekends in August and I have five rooms: kitchen, living room, bathroom, two bedrooms. So I started the kitchen already... kind of a little jump start.

And of course, there may be a last-minute flurry of decluttering. Again. I sigh thinking about it. But I know it's easier to clean a simple, uncluttered house and it's way easier to keep it clean. The goal now is to have just what I need and what I can reasonably manage. August may be the month of moving in, but life is too short to spend ALL of my hours and days and months cleaning and managing clutter!

Somewhere in the middle of 2006 I got the house clean and passably decluttered and then I kind of got stuck. I kept up the maintenance, vacuuming, always keeping the litter box tidy, washing up on the weekends, but I didn't deep clean anything. This house had needed a really thorough deep clean for a few months before Drew got me hooked on "How Clean is Your House?" but it was during that very first episode that it clicked with me. Cleaning isn't just an obligation. It's also a way to honor your life, a way to show yourself you're worth that much effort.

I'm working on that one.

Posted by laurie at 9:00 AM

August 1, 2007

Progress and problem areas ....

There aren't a lot of pictures of the house in its most perilously cluttered state. I was ashamed of it, and overwhelmed by it, and photographing the seemingly insurmountable and possibly dangerous problem didn't seem like a good idea.

The few pictures I have show only the edges of the clutter, but it's enough to see where I was back then and how far I have come which is kind of a good way to start a month of home improvement. I've been giving myself a hard time for stagnating, spending so many months and weeks fantasizing about some far-away perfect future instead of making my actual real-life a cozy, happy place. But maybe I just needed a little rest. Maybe.

The huge clutter problem happened mainly in the "office." Also known as "Oh God do not go in there, it's scary." The bedroom and bathroom have nevr had a clutter problem because they're so tiny, and I was careful to keep only what I needed in those rooms. The living room has been clean a lot of the time, but still gets its share of accumulated stuff... however, since I spend most of my time in that room, watching TV or reading on the sofa or just looking out the pretty window onto the backyard, I have tried to keep it tidy. The kitchen table often becomes a holding place for stuff but I think that's kind of normal. Right?

But that office, it was just a mess. It still gives me hives thinking about how much I have to do in there because it's really still very cluttered. But when I first moved in, the boxes were actually stacked high enough that the cats had no problem at all getting into the cubbies near the ceiling. THAT IS CRAZY. But I definitely wasn't exaggerating about the boxes:

In this picture you can see the adorable Sobakowa waiting for HER kitty pi to dry on the impromptu blocking form (that story is here.) But look in the background, see the view into the Bad Place? see the boxes? That was Very Very Bad.

Later I started pulling things out of boxes and into piles, sorting what would stay and what would become my Very First Yard Sale.

Yeah. It was a process.

There is still a large pile of ... stuff.

This month I am going to get through that pile one way or another and deal with the assorted stuff that remains. I want this room to be pretty and functional and nice.

The old desk and wobbly chair went the way of the yard sale, and now I have these two old computers. I've been putting off donating or selling them because I need to wipe the hard drives. When you donate computers, they say it's not enough to just delete your personal information, you must also really clean the hard drive, erasing the data for your security. One of my tasks this month is to figure out what to use to scour the data and leave the operating system intact. Then I have to decide whether or not to donate them or try to sell them. Either way, it needs to get done and it's not going to magically happen by gnomes in the middle of the night. Those damn electronics have gathered dust in this room for almost three years!

This space used to have all kinds of junk seated on a big Ikea bookcase. Now it holds my office supplies and ... THE WALL O' YARN.

I know I need to make another decluttering pass through the office supplies and get rid of things I am no longer using. Yarn doesn't get decluttered!

So that's the main problem area of the house from a clutter standpoint. I'm really tired of waiting until tomorrow, next week, next weekend, that day I have off work (not likely), next month... before I get this room finally cleaned up and decorated. And truthfully, if I could really be ruthless with the remaining junk I bet I could even use this room as a painting studio. The very thought gives me little goosebumps. I'm not a great painter but i sure do love painting, and I haven't picked up a paintbrush or touched a canvas since I moved to this house. The light in this room is lovely, I think it would make an amazing studio

Bob agrees!

Posted by laurie at 2:33 PM

Improvement begins at home, with the cannoli of the universe

[I'm sorry this is so long. Apparently I have had some wordiness stored up inside.]

How August came to be the Month Of Making A House A Home

On Friday, July 13th, I woke up and decided I needed to move. IMMEDIATELY. Apparently the way I try to worm out of a conflagration of bad events is to pack up and get the hell out of Dodge. As it turns out, the universe at large did not think this was such a good strategy and wanted me to remain in Dodge for the time being.

(My mom sometimes wonders if I have turned fully crazy because I talk about The Universe a lot. But I like to think of "The Universe" as this dude who looks a lot like Luca Brasi from The Godfather. Sometimes he's got my back. Sometimes he swims with the fishes. We both like cannoli. Sometimes The Universe even looks like ... just the cannoli. It's a fluid concept.)

Anyway, I am a person who has never had trouble finding a place to live. Ever. I just get the show on the road and somehow it always works out. The Universe, he's got my back. YouknowhudImean?

But let me assure you that after five full days of dogged determination, a hundred phone calls and a wasted $60 for an online listing service, I finally put my head down on the desk, beaten by The Universe and July, 2007. I realized Luca Brasi had other plans for me, plans to stay put and figure it out ... whatever It was.

Where am I, and how did I get here? And is there any wine?

I moved into the teeny house in Encino-Adjacent at the lowest of low points, and I had more stuff than any one human should carry around. I was heartbroken, disheveled and also just plain broke. I hated how small the place was, filled floor-to-ceiling with the million boxes of my misspent marriage. I didn't care one way or the other about this house, I was just glad moving was over and it had a covered patio outside to sit and smoke. I could never smoke indoors, it was a long-held peculiarity of mine ... besides, Roy had terrible asthma.

The boxes were stacked in huge piles in the bigger bedroom and they filled the garage, the living room, every space was overflowing with stuff. I couldn't even get the stove serviced by the Gas Company for a week because the stove was piled high with boxes. It took a long time to dig out from underneath it all, but I did eventually get the clutter down to a livable amount. By the end of 2005 you could at least walk around the place. Then I pared down to a more acceptable level, and I pared down again and again until my house began to feel spacious, all 800 square feet of it.

This time of paring down has not always been easy or painless. Frankly, at first I did not want to do it. I thought that holding on to the things I'd collected over the years would bring me some kind of security or comfort or a sense of safety. After I moved, I was thisclose to becoming another woman altogether, one who'd once had a life and then something changed and she just stopped living. I could see the path to this potential life so clearly: The clutter would pile up, a new layer on top of the old layer from an old life, a life left unsorted. Year after year more rubble would be added to the pile like clutter strata until before long this woman, the one in the potential future, is sleeping on a corner of the bed and nobody could come visit and she is alone and ashamed. She would wonder sometimes how to fix it, and she would desperately want to fix it, but by then things had gone on for so long she was immobilized by stuff and fear.

I didn't want that to happen.

For some people, of course, this path is never even a possibility. But it was real and kind of alarmingly near for me. I knew that inside me there was a line drawn in the invisible sand and I could have stayed behind the line forever, and my life would have become an archaeological dig of junk and despair. Or I could cross over to something new and scary ... and free.

I'm not sure what was the one single deciding factor for me crossing to the other side of the line. I think it was Roy and the cats, to be honest. (Does that sound weird? Perhaps when we're at our most alone we cling to what we can, we cling to the one living, breathing thing that needs us.) Maybe that's why his passing has been even harder. He got very sick almost right after I moved into this house, and even though it was a coincidence and not the fault of the move or the house, I made the decision to try very diligently to get the house tidy and sorted out. I wanted the cats to be able to move around without fear they'd be trapped under boxes and piles. Whatever time Roy had left should be really nice, in a comfortable house with clean floors.

And I didn't want to be that woman, the one sleeping in a tiny corner of her own life.

Getting rid of the junk, and the not-junk, too

I think I've spent almost three years here in this little house unpacking. My relationship with stuff is a complex one, and revising that relationship has taken a lot of work. Even now, after years of letting go, sometimes it's so painful it almost physically hurts. When Roy died, I had to restrain myself from running out to the curb to retrieve his little tiny self-heating blanket mat out of the bin before the truck came. I sprawled on the bed and cried like an idiot as I listened to the truck empty the big cans, taking away forever that little blanket.

But that old mangled up piece of fabric which had seen a lot of washloads and a lot of fur was not my beloved cat. It was just an old blanket. Sure, he loved it. But up until he left me I never really thought of the blanket one way or the other, just washed it once a week and put it back inside his little tent and I was happy he was happy. I did not love and miss the blanket, I loved and missed Roy and I WANTED HIM BACK GIMME THAT BLANKET RIGHT NOW.

But I had to let it go. Things carry energy and memories and he only used the mat because he was frail and sick and cold a lot of the time. It reminded me every time I looked at it how hard I tried to keep him alive and still he left and I was sad. And holding onto a grubby scrap of cloth just will not bring him back.

Other times letting go has been easy. I don't care at all about saying goodbye to pants that are too big for me now or towels who have seen better days. I loved passing on to the Goodwill a pretty duvet cover and matching pillow shams that I bought when I first moved into this house. They were still pretty, but they represented my attempt to rid myself of married linens, re-take the bedroom as it were, and frankly ya'll that is a war I have long since won. Yay me! And yay to the person who finds this treat in the Goodwill store.

Sometimes you have to let go so new things can come in.

The move here to Encino-Adj. required a giant moving truck of the 18-wheeler variety and a team of three men and still it took NINE FULL HOURS to load and unload. NINE hours, not including breaks and driving time. And that was on the day after four of my girlfriends and all their respective vehicles had spent a whole Saturday loading and hauling stuff to the house before the movers even arrived. I look back and I am embarrassed at how much stuff I had, how much of my life I wrapped up in clutter and accumulation.

But when you know better you do better, or so says Maya Angelou and I do not argue with her. Or Luca Brasi. So I forgive myself. I held on because I didn't have a lot of material things growing up and it felt like comfort and security to accumulate stuff as I got older. I held on even tighter when my marriage started to fade. HOLD ON FOR ONE MORE DAY. I shopped hoping to finally buy something that would make everyone happy. Now I know they do not sell my brand of happy at a store. (But I do have some great shoes.)

I appreciate everything I have. And sometimes I give things more importance than they deserve. But finally, finally, nostalgic and sentimental me has realized that in the end it's just a blanket, it's not a soul. And when stuff begins to crowd into your life, there's not a lot of room left for people and adventures. I wasn't very portable just a few years ago. I couldn't have people over very often, either, because it meant spending ten hours of prep time sorting, stacking, managing the clutter, cleaning and hiding all the stuff.

I want my life to be about living, not about moving piles of boxes from this room to that room. It's hard to feel grateful for what you have when you're struggling to hide it or move it to the side so there's a path to the computer desk.

Just go to Ikea, that will solve the problem!

I used to think the solution was to buy new things to hold my stuff. I had all kinds of cheap cubbies and cubes and plastic bins, filled and overflowing, if I bought something new I often bought something to house it in. I also used to be in debt thanks to my try-to-buy-happiness-on-sale approach. Now, truth be told, I still believe that you can buy things and they give you a happy feeling or make you pleased. For example, I adore my L'Occitane shower oil. I love pretty yarn. AND SHOES. How I do love shoes.

But nothing I buy gives me the ability to be in my own company and enjoy it. That was something that came from a place they don't have sales.

One of the habits that has been hardest to break is the urge to buy a really great Ikea shelving system as a solution to all my problems, or maybe some plastic bins in matching sizes, or a set of pretty boxes that I don't know what they'll hold, but Lord knows I'll find something...

No. The solution to having too much stuff isn't to go out and buy more stuff. Funny how that works.

From House to Home in 31 days...?

I wanted to move out of this house because I was sad, and July sucked, and I'm anxious about the future.

Nothing in my life is very stable right now, and for me (a stabilty-lovin' mudfoot) this is a really scary place to be. I am trying to Go With It, and often that involves wine and fervent prayers in the wee hours. Sometimes I plead with The Universe/Luca/Cannoli to just show me a little glimpse of the future. Please? And let it be a good one?

One night I looked around my living room and realized I have been living here, in this house, for almost three years and I have yet to actually move in. I was living in the past for the first year and a half, and I've been living for the future the rest of the time. And at the risk of sounding even weirder and self-helpier than usual, I realized in that moment of pure clarity that I have been living my life on credit, on emotional lay-away, waiting for my life to start, waiting for The Future. And now I am 36 years old and here's a newsflash: LIFE HAS ALREADY STARTED. IT IS ALREADY IN PROGRESS.

I have been waiting until....

Waiting until I pay off debt. Then waiting until I save money. Waiting until I have free time. Waiting until the book is finished. Waiting until it comes out. Waiting for the phone call. Waiting for the schedule. Waiting for more information. Waiting until I have a plan. Waiting until I weigh X amount. Waiting until I get my hair cut. Waiting until I find that right outfit. Waiting until I know. Waiting until I meet someone. Waiting until I move to really decorate. Why bother doing it now? Sometime in the future I'll live someplace else. That's when I'll get it all together. That's when I'll have a lovely little home. Why bother now? Why, when the future is coming?

I have been waiting until conditions were perfectly right to live fully. Apparently I think somewhere off in the future there is a really good life and if I wait long enough I will get to it.


Then Roy died. And lots of things happened all at once. And finally I lifted my head and looked at my current surroundings. My life is right here, in this house, right now. Today. I sleep in this house every night and wake here every morning and clearly I am not moving this weekend or in the certain near future. And even if I do move unexpectedly in two weeks, I can't wake up anymore in a half-way place, always waiting, living between What Was and What Will Be. This house is what I have to work with at this time. It's not about a big shopping spree or all new furniture, it's about having what I need and love and enjoy and making it comfortable and pretty and tidy. Living as nice as current conditions can be.

Moving has not ever brought me much happiness, anyway. I tend to carry my stuff with me everywhere I go.

It's a process.

Since that lonely first Christmas when all it did was rain and all I did was smoke alone on the patio avoiding the boxes and the future, I have learned some good things just from living in this house. Like how enjoyable it can be to have a small space. And how small things can go a long way. And I finally learned how to sit with anxiety and fear, and how to be truly alone.

Most importantly, I learned how to be grateful in this house. There were times I would come home and thank God for letting me have such a comforting place to spend the night.

But maybe gratitude is like a muscle, like a bicep or something, and I have to exercise it regularly or it gets weak. Or I get weak and forget to be appreciative. Maybe somewhere along the line I stopped being grateful for what I have right this second, and started hoping for a better (happier, kinder, softer, skinnier, less lonely, more vibrant) future. Or maybe somewhere deep down inside I don't think I'm worth the effort. Don't believe that me, alone, is a project warranting any more than simply removing the clutter and waiting for a better time to make improvements. Until conditions are right.

Well, this is the August when I actually move into my house. It's going to be a really great month whether it wants to be or not. I know that current conditions will never be perfect, but it will simply have to be good enough. I don't want to fall asleep in my house each night envisioning a future home with a future me where I am skinny and have a great companion and have money in the bank and never experience loss or sadness or blemishes ... while my current conditions deteriorate rapidly. It's another way of crossing that invisible line in the sand, keeping my life on the path I want instead of stuck on the fear path.

Work with what I've got. Exercise the grateful muscles. Stop waiting. Conditions are right now, and that is what I have to work with.

Posted by laurie at 10:08 AM