instant gramming

November 25, 2007

Weekend Warriors

"Holy F balls." That's how C suggested I start this entry. I agree that this phrase sums our exasperation at our current situation. We had slept in the morning after Thanksgiving and were brainstorming all the wonderfully relaxing things we could fit in to our three extra days of holiday vacation: "Let's sleep in and wash my car windows;" "let's watch football and go shopping;" "let's clean the house." Somehow the conversation turned to dream house renovations. C asked me what I would do to change the kitchen. We then started talking about knocking out walls around the house. In an attempt to reign ourselves in, I mentioned that if we were going to do anything, we should pick a needed change--like removing this dirty carpet. A blink later and C was on her knees pulling carpet back to appraise the hardwood floors. I think she was as excited as I when we realized the floors were probably in great condition throughout. By noon we had removed all the carpet and padding in the hallway. We went to lunch and wrote down our strategy for refinishing our hardwood floors. However, our flowchart involved a lot less steps than what we've done so far. It is late on Sunday morning and we are at Panera for the third time this weekend. Our refrigerator and oven are conveniently blocked by our couch and a few bookcases. So that is why we ate Wendy's last night.


I'm finishing up this post Monday morning. C is at home finishing up the second coat of stain in the living room and hallway. This project has involved renting (for 24 hours) an electrical floor sander and 3 passes over approximately 900 square feet with successively finer sanding pads; scrupulous vacuuming; tack-cloth-ing; and now TWO coats of noxious wood stain (English Chestnut!). That is, not to mention dismantling our home and packing our possessions into the basement and garage. Soon we will be polyurethane-ing. Did I mention that we overlooked the fact that 40 degree temperatures and rainy weather is really slowing down our progress? Well, the floors look gorgeous so far and pictures will be up soon.


I want to mention that this project started on "Black Friday"--the day after Thanksgiving--the largest shopping day of the year, and also designated as "Buy Nothing Day" by radical "Jammers and Cultural Creatives" across the developed world. I'm proud to say, in the spirit of B.N.D., C and I rented a tool to work together to improve our house. We didn't have to wade through crowds of sale-hungered mall shoppers to exchange money for services, improve our quality of life, and support the economy. We also improved the value of our house, which might, in a small way, improve the value of our neighborhood. The cynic would remind us that we did buy some tools (a sanding block, a broom handle...) that will remain in our possession, that we quickly went through some inexpensive latex gloves, and that we created a lot of trash. I will remind the cynic that we saved some beautiful wood floors, original to the house (50 years old!), and that carpet should never have been put into the house in the first place. Our house will be cleaner, contain less allergens, and be easier to clean, and our knowledge and independence is increased. Remember the three R's: Reduce, Reuse, Refinish...?

(All my love to C, my beautiful wife, who was a powerhouse this weekend and this morning. She is an incredibly hard worker and inspires me constantly. She was in her element from the point of ripping out the carpet. C, I know this project has been testing your patience, and the fast food we've been fueling up on is killing us slowly, but everything looks great and I am loving you more and more every second. When this project is finished, hopefully I'll make it up to you, big time.)

November 1, 2007

raison d'etre

"Where should we go in search of the good life? We were not seeking to escape. Quite the contrary, we wanted to find a way in which we could put more into life and get more out of it. We were... looking for an opportunity to take on more worth-while responsibilities. The chance to help, improve and rebuild was more than an opportunity...
"We were seeking an affirmation,--a way of conducting ourselves, of looking at the world and taking part in its activities that would provide at least a minimum of those values which we considered a part of the good life. As we saw it, such values must include: simplicity, freedom from anxiety or tension [serenity], an opportunity to be useful [utility] and to live harmoniously..." (Helen and Scott Nearing, Living the Good Life)

I read this autobiography near the end of high school at a time when I was forced to make a decision about my future for which I wasn't ready. That is to say I didn't understand what college would have in store for me, if anything, and I was learning profound things about life that I understood wouldn't be learned in an expensive classroom. Digging a little deeper here I'll share that my life, at this point, was reformed through my exposure to music of subcultures pitted against mainstream American society. I had turned to "punk rock" to satisfy my need to be noticed, get loud (figuratively and literally), assert my independence, and most importantly have fun. Over time, I listened intensely to new bands of subgenres of the broader "punk" label. Apathy, cynicism, and mindless anthems of rebellion were replaced by political, social, and economic tirades fueled by wordly injustices including ones environmental. I was being inspired by a very real "peace punk" movement that was underground (i.e. remote from the eyes of the mainstream media), and it really captured and fired up my heart.
To make a longer story short, I was being exposed to some ideas that are so far removed from what I was being fed by my school, mainly--the political, social, and environmental impacts of food, diet, work, and the interrelated values that connect them. (Vegetarianism and veganism are HUGE movements connected to underground punk.) Some bands and other punk literature were highlighting bigger ideas like gardening, reflecting on land ownership and "farming" (in an alternative or non-conventional sense), and communal social living. My mind was being blown away. I started using school projects as an opportunity to learn about these ideas. Junior year I did an "author report" on Wendell Berry--I'll never remember how or why I stumbled on to this hugely inspirational and eloquent writer. I do credit him largely with inspiring the love, understanding, and respect for farming and gardening that I now have. He also helped to reconcile my confusion and growing concerns about the conflict between agriculture and nature. At some point within the following year I picked up Helen and Scott Nearing's book "Living the Good Life"--a sort of handbook/manifesto about moving from New York City to Vermont to live a completely self-sufficient and satisfying life. Moving on, I connected my fascination with this book with my new desire to live at Denison University's Homestead, of which I knew nothing but it's premise of communal living in the woods, where cabins were heated and food was cooked with wood chopped by its residents, bonfires and music were abundant, and farm animals were periodically kept. This was an opportunity to attend a college and, more importantly, learn about a lifestyle I was beginning to idealize. (Note: I came to learn there are hundreds of successful intentional communities around the 'States, welcoming to new residents; fortunatley, this was realized after I was established in college.)
Ok, that covers a lot of my journey to this point: recently deployed from college, working a very good job, now married, and settling into a house we own (Thanks to the tremendous support from our family). My motivation to move into a house was the opportunity to start establishing, or expanding my "good life." This includes the chance to grow vegetables, to landscape in an ecologically-sound way, to have spaces that would permit and inspire art (and music and literature) production and to prepare good and wholesome food. Also, this is to provide a space to host family and friends--something I/we have never had an opportunity to do...
The term "Good Life" has become loaded with all the values and principles that I, at any one time, believe are essential to living well and being happy. I suppose the values and principles will always be in flux, but at the end of the day, one's happiness is the measuring device. If you're not happy about something, what does that say about the way you are living? What can you change or do to solve your problem?