Secret Project

Some husbands travel a lot for their jobs – jet-setting about in dark suits for meetings in New York or conferences in Hong Kong. They rack up frequent-flier miles and dine out at upscale restaurants. They speed between airports and high-rise hotels in sleek black livery cars and bring home exotic souvenirs for their children.

Such a life is not for shabbily-dressed computer programmers, apparently.

Programmers spend much of their time slouched in poorly-lit cubicles, squinting irritably or dispassionately at jumbled, scrolling text and numbers on large black screens. From time to time they move the mouse, just to show that they are hard at work.

I was sent on a business trip, once. My destination: beautiful downtown East Alton, Illinois, where I spent a week in a windowless warehouse that had been converted into a data-center. Kathy and I were newly married, so we drove there together (from Connecticut) in our ancient Oldsmobile Cutlass-Ciera. Kathy read, journaled, watched daytime TV, and stared at the walls in our hotel room while I attended exciting presentations with titles like “The Proper Care and Handling of Magnetic Backup Data Tapes”.

The East Alton skyline

The East Alton skyline

Perhaps it is no surprise that Kathy has done most of the traveling in our marriage. As a homeschooling mom of five children, her schedule has allowed her to take advantage of invitations that others, in lock-step with public or private school schedules, must forgo. I generally encourage her to accept those invitations. After all, that is one of the well-deserved perks of home-schooling, which is not for the faint of heart.

Snack of champions

Snack cakes of champions

Whenever Kathy goes away, I try to accomplish some secret project, to show her that I love and appreciate her. I am always seeking to dispel her deeply-held conviction that, left to my own devices, I would stay home from work and play computer games the whole time she was gone, eating Little Debby Snack Cakes in my pajamas.

This is simply not true. I don’t even wear pajamas, except at Christmas.

Kathy’s Aunt Stephanie is a retired professor and an accomplished world-traveler, with friends and colleagues scattered willy-nilly across the globe. Some years ago, she began a generous practice of offering a trip to Europe to groups of her grand-nieces and nephews, when they reach their early-to-mid teenage years.

This year was Sarah’s turn, along with three of her cousins – so naturally, Sarah leapt at the chance to spend two weeks touring Italy. As this group of great-nieces range in ages from 11 to 15 (younger than the ones who have gone before), Aunt Stephanie graciously invited the parents to come as well. How could Kathy resist such an amazing opportunity! Dropping the two of them off at the airport, I sped home with plans and schemes of a secret project, dancing in my head.

Sarah, Aunt Stephanie, and cousins Aydia, Layla and Zoey

Sarah, Aunt Stephanie, and cousins Aydia, Lyla and Zoey

Kathy loves variety. She delights in fresh colors and designs and often coordinates our linens with the seasons. Summers typically include a project of some kind – painting a bedroom, decluttering the garage, etc. She simply cannot abide the idea of leaving her environment unchanged.

For this reason, and because we have 7 people in our family and beds of all shapes and sizes, we have acquired a goodly supply of bed-linens, and storage is always a challenge. We have a large, walk-in closet, but someone has rudely filled it with clothes.

Our bedroom is fairly large, and has a generous, south-facing double window, with a wide window-seat below it. Kathy has often critically eyed that window-seat, lamenting the lack of storage under the bench. “That window seat is just not pulling its weight,” she grumbles.

Stopping off for a quick errand on my way home from the airport, I suddenly realized what I could do to please and amaze my bride.

“Eureka!” I shouted, startling another shopper in the Little Debby Snack Cakes aisle of the grocery store. “I will tear down that useless window seat and replace it with a row of kitchen cabinets! Kathy will have enough storage for all the bed linens, comforters and towels her heart could possibly desire!”

The other shopper smiled nervously and edged away, clutching a package of Nutty Bars.

There was one tiny flaw in this plan: I am in the running for the title as the world’s slowest-working and most incompetent handy man. Home improvement projects involving the proper use of tools and materials are generally at least two trains and a bus ride outside my comfort-zone.

Undaunted by reality or reason, I began by removing the carpet and padding from the top of the existing window seat. I had measured the opening and found that, by some serendipitous miracle, the 9-foot width of the existing window seat would exactly translate into two 18-inch-wide cabinets and two 36-inch-wide cabinets. (This was later amended to 2×18” and 3×24” cabinets, which still happily adds-up to 108 inches.)

Setting my face like tapioca against discouragement or ridicule, I addressed the removal of the window seat. Exerting my sloth-like top speed, I had the plywood top removed in a mere four hours, revealing the attic over the garage and a five-inch recess beneath.

There's nothing quite like a reciprocating saw, to help you get in over your heard in a project.

There’s nothing quite like a reciprocating saw, to help you get in over your heard in a project.

I summoned several friends over to advise me, fearing that the removal of the window seat supports would result in the collapse of the wall that holds up the bedroom windows. They came gladly, chortling at my foolishness. “Don’t worry,” they assured me. “We’ll tell Kathy that we told you not to do this.”

There’s only so much chortling a handyman can take, even when he’s desperate for counsel, so I sent them packing and resumed my deconstruction efforts.

And so the project unfolded. Hours passed, in which I grimly studied the problem and considered alternatives. Never before, in the history of home projects, has so much thought produced so little actual work – but somehow, by the end of the second day, I finished removing the old window seat.

Nearly all of the window seat has now been removed .... but what is supporting the window wall?

Nearly all of the window seat has now been removed …. but what is supporting the window wall?

I found that the wall under the windows was apparently supported by wishes and prayers (or maybe it hung from the beam above), so I determined to support it with salvaged 4×4 post fragments (remnants of my fallen back fence).

I used the jack from the van to hold up the wall while I worked, and to make sure the 4x4's fit properly.

I used the jack from the van to hold up the wall while I worked, and to make sure the 4×4′s fit properly.

Shopping at Home Depot for the third or fourth time, I purchased the cabinets that would fill the space, but found that they would not quite fit into the recess beneath the former window seat. I would need to trim them a bit, which gave me a moment’s pause.

The cabinet looks tall because I haven't yet cut off the bottom and fit it into the recess of the window seat.

The cabinet looks tall because I haven’t yet cut off the bottom and fit it into the recess of the window seat.

“What we have here, is a sort of a crossing-the-Rubicon moment,” I mused. “Once I cut these cabinets, the good folks at Home Depot will be reluctant to let me return them, if Kathy doesn’t like what I’ve done.”

Over the years, I have come to recognize these critical junctures in time, if only by hindsight. For example, if I had actually attended some of my college classes, I probably wouldn’t have lost my ROTC scholarship. Or if I had made sure the emergency brake was on, before leaving my car on the ferry deck … well, you get my drift. There are often subtle clues.

On the other hand, surprise was a critical aspect of this project. If I consulted Kathy, it would give the whole thing away.

There is just no getting around it – I am getting older. By sheer attrition, I’ve acquired something that could pass for wisdom, at least in poor light. So I texted Kathy. “I need you to call me.”

As it unfolded, she did NOT actually want our bedroom dominated by a bank of large white cabinets, in spite of the sheer, glorious magnitude of storage they would provide. She wanted to keep the window seat, but to have storage under it. When she said, “I wish there was storage under that window seat”, she had apparently NOT meant, “That window seat must be reduced to rubble!”

I was disappointed.

“Rookie mistake,” my friend Peter told me, when I confessed that I had asked Kathy for her input. And so it seemed to me – back went the cabinets to Home Depot. Now I was faced with the unpleasant prospect of rebuilding the window seat I had so enthusiastically destroyed.

Whenever you do something to please another person, whether it is buying a gift or providing a service, there comes a moment when you have to face the question: “Am I doing this for them, or for me?”

All too often, the answer is that I’m doing it for me.

I managed to persuade Kathy that a discreet (unfinished) cabinet on each end would still allow room for a window seat in the middle, and so I installed the two end-cabinets and began the process of reconstructing the window seat, ably assisted by our two cats, who have probably been sending Kathy regular updates.

I admit, the unfinished cabinets will probably work a lot better with the overall decor of the bedroom.

I admit, the unfinished cabinets will probably work a lot better with the overall decor of the bedroom.

Suddenly, I realized that Kathy was coming home on Sunday, and it was already Friday evening. I rushed to complete salvage the project, since I had reduced our bedroom to a handyman’s war zone.

David shows off the two end-cabinets in his inimitable style.

David shows off the two end-cabinets in his inimitable style.

Except I had miscalculated, since I also needed to prepare for Sunday School and finish the Vacation Bible School attendance program that I have been (slowly) building for our church. Let’s just say that Saturday was a long day. I rebuilt the window seat that I had so blithely destroyed, and rushed to make the bedroom habitable.

I shang-haied some passing ruffian volunteers to stress-test the seat.

I shang-haied some passing ruffian volunteers to stress-test the seat.

Now all that remains is to make a cushion for the seat, panel the sides of the cabinets, and figure out how to acquire and hang doors on the front of the window seat itself. All in all, I think Kathy was thrilled (even if she wasn’t surprised)

Tune in later (no promises how long it will take) for the final rendition!

The not-quite-finished product.

The not-quite-finished product.


Share or follow

Related posts:

Young Eagles

As Kathy and I have aged (yes, I’m afraid it happens to nearly all of us) we have noticed a troubling trend: that our children tend to grow into their teen years, start driving, develop their own distinctive interests, and eventually leave the house. This last school year has been unusually quiet, with Joshua, Rachel and Daniel all away at their colleges.

That is not to say that David and Sarah are TOO terribly quiet. David plays the piano (and occasionally the drums) and Sarah can be counted on to fill the house with the sound of her Les Miserables soundtrack day and night. But it cannot be avoided: there is a big difference between five children and two, if only in terms of the noise they make stomping up and down the stairs and slamming doors.

When the kids were growing up, we worked hard to foster a strong sense of family identity, favoring relationships inside the family over outside friends or interests. It seemed to us that if our children could become lifelong friends with each other, this would be a good and precious thing. And so we scheduled family movie nights, celebrated every possible occasion, played lots of games, and generally strove to make our home a warm, cheerful, fun place to be.

Joshua helped me sample a fresh batch of smoked brisket ...

Joshua helps me sample a fresh batch of smoked brisket …

And yet, the kids had different inclinations, and the age and maturity gaps between them sometimes seemed insurmountable. As our boys have grown into young men, and our girls have blossomed into young ladies, their interests have typically diverged even further. Kathy and I sometimes worried whether our kids would choose to be close to each other after they were grown.

Now, as the college kids are returning home for the summer, a new and delightful joy has gripped our home, as our kids rediscover and enjoy each other, more than ever. Whether it is Daniel teaching Rachel how to ride a longboard, or watching all of them play a dice game together at the kitchen table, there is a deep and satisfying delight in seeing their relationships with each other deepened (or in some cases, reforged).

A quick game of Splendor

Or maybe a quick game of Splendor

To add to the fun, Joshua and Kelsie have arrived on a whirlwind visit from Tennessee, and my heart is full, having all the young eagles back in the nest for a few moments.

Admittedly, the 'nest' is a pseudonym for the 'table', much of the time.

Admittedly, the ‘nest’ is a pseudonym for the ‘table’, much of the time.

Share or follow

Related posts:

A Fresh Start

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Last year Kathy set a goal to write or post something every day, but the ‘every day, rain or shine’ nature of her commitment (which she thought I subscribed to) felt forced and contrived to me. Right at the end of the year, we got into a sort of a fight about it, because she wanted to back-date some posts that were based on pictures which had been taken on a certain day, and that seemed a little too revisionist (shades of the Ministry of Truth, from 1984) to me. It was one of those trivial-seeming, innocent differences of opinion which suddenly turned ugly, picking up baggage and momentum from other, previous arguments, growing rapidly into a major disagreement.

So both of us (somewhat bewildered) carefully backed away from posting anything on the blog, and our joy in the project was stolen. Since then, we haven’t posted anything, both licking our wounds and wondering if to resume would be to reopen the argument. Since neither of us really understood the others’ viewpoint, we both felt a little paralyzed and yet unhappy with the status quo.

It’s been six months. I know Kathy feels unhappy about not recording the major events of our life in the blog, and I admit that I miss it, too. The blog serves as a way for me to crystallize the thoughts of my heart and to reveal that to myself and the people I love. Maybe we can start again.

There's nothing quite like an early morning and a new-plowed field to make you think about fresh starts.

There’s nothing quite like an early morning and a new-plowed field to make you think about fresh starts.

Marriage seems to involve a lot of these kind of things, where two people come together again, admitting they are different and broken and sometimes wrong, and offering at least a willingness to start again, maybe this time a little kinder and gentler. After 24 years of marriage, you’d think I would have figured this out.

I’m sorry, Kathy, for trampling on your joy in the blog last year. I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings. I care about you and the fun we have as a family. Let’s try this again.


Share or follow

Related posts:

Pinterest Class, Starbucks, and Thrifty Chic

This year I think we acquired new Christmas decor from three different places – Sarah’s homeschool co-op Pinterest class, Starbucks, and a local Facebook “for sale” page.

Sarah is so talented!

Sarah is so talented!

I love that our co-op offers such a diverse collection of classes. I am NOT artistic, so it’s a treat when Sarah or David can benefit from the other talented moms. Sarah made several beautiful things this past semester in her Pinterest class.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

For some reason, I decided to splurge and treat myself to several mini Starbucks ornaments this year. I had a few from previous years, and couldn’t resist buying one or two throughout the month of December. I kept them in their little box until late December – still not sure if I was keeping them for myself or giving them as gifts. Heh heh. Then I stumbled on a small golden ornament tree for sale on our local Facebook page.

Filled with ornaments!

Filled with ornaments!

There’s room for a few more ornaments. Next year??

A tree in front of a tree.

A tree in front of a tree.

I even hung them on this little tree IN their boxes. Toward the end of the month a sweet friend gave me two more ornaments I was missing, and Sarah looked at me knowingly.

“Mom, you’re not going to give these away. You think they’re too much fun. Just take them out of their boxes and enjoy the coffee tree.”

Sigh, when your kids know you so well, what can you do??

My artist - working on our chalkboard pantry door.

My artist – working on our chalkboard pantry door.

Over the month I did quite a bit of odds and ends shopping on the FB site. I picked up a tree, some garland, several ornaments, fleece pj’s, decorated mason jars for candles, and so on.

This garland was perfect over.  Took down the curtains, wound lights into the greenery and hung them in the living room.

This garland was perfect over. Took down the curtains, wound lights into the greenery and hung them in the living room.

Our master bedroom is big enough for it’s own tree. I hung all the ornaments on it that I haven’t used in years – memory ones from our first year of marriage, themed ornaments that just didn’t fit on the main tree, childhood creations. I even put lights over the window and around the room. Tim works from home several days a week. Our room became one of our favorite Christmas spots of the season.

Christmas tree decorating in process.

Christmas tree decorating in process.

Of course, putting Christmas decorations AWAY is never as much fun as taking them out – the END of the season is always bitter sweet (kids going back to college, Tim off to work, homeschooling and ministry responsibilities returning). Going through our Project 365 pictures, blogging about the big and small moments of our days, and smiling over it all, helps to keep me thankful and aware of all our abundant blessings.

Project 365 Days 341, 342 and 344 (Dec 7, 8 and 10)

Share or follow

Related posts: