January 15, 2018
In my final two columns of the year, I traditionally share highlights from the past 12 months. Last week’s column featured lessons from the first half of 2017, when I bade good-bye to my Colorado house, got a puppy, and overcame my fear of foreign rug merchants. Here’s what I learned in the second half:
IN JULY I investigated a trend growing faster than corn in Kansas, all stemming from the pent-up need for the woman of the house to get some space. She sheds, small outbuildings that women create for their own purposes, were barely on the radar two years ago. Today a Google search surfaces millions of hits. I so get this.
Any woman who has been in the midst of forming her most profound idea of the week — that spark for a painting or poem, that solution to a business problem — and had that moment pierced by the screams of her kids fighting over the last Oreo, understands.
The Lesson: Few forces in the universe are stronger than a woman’s desire for her own space. Whether a gardening shed, artist studio, yoga salon, home office, or sewing room, she sheds reflect this.
IN AUGUST, the house bug bit. I probably started it by throwing out some comment like, “I wish we had one of those big kitchens with a counter and barstools.” Rather than tell me to leave well enough alone, my husband, DC, added, “I’d like a yard for the dogs.” And the list grew: a fireplace, a bigger dining room, a home office, more room for our blended family of five grown kids… And soon the notion grew from a spark to a flame to blaze.
One weekend, a Southern colonial in our neighborhood dropped its price. DC saw it first, then said I’d better look. I did. I had one response: “Uh-Oh.”
The Lesson: Be careful what you wish for because there is a high chance you will manifest it. Of this I am certain.
IN SEPTEMBER Hurricane Irma blew through like a woman scorned and carved her destruction up the Sunshine State. Our heads shook like weather vanes as we tried to make sense of the wreckage. We stayed out of town for the brunt of it. The next day we came home to an intact house with power. I felt relief and guilt. On the news were images of people not far from us standing in water knee deep, or staring numbly at a soaked mound that was once their home.
The Lesson: Gratitude. Disasters like Irma, Harvey and the California fires are reminders, whether or not you sustain damage, of how much we take home for granted. They force us to imagine losing everything, and thus we become more grateful for the roof over us, dry floors, electricity, and the comfort of routine.
IN OCTOBER My life was consumed by wood flooring, as I installed new, replaced old, and refinished existing — in two houses at once. In the new house, DC and I decided to put wood floors in the downstairs master to match the rest of the floors downstairs. Then I realized I really didn’t want to match the existing floor’s yellow-blonde color, which led to refinishing them a mid-tone brown. (Ka-Ching.)
Then, over dinner one night I said to DC, “As long as we’re …” DC’s fork paused midair. He knew those four little words — as long as we’re – are the four most expensive words in remodeling. I continued “… doing wood floors downstairs, maybe we should replace the worn carpet upstairs with wood, too.” Here DC plunged his fork straight into his chest.
This was on top of learning that, in the house we were selling, we had in fact not made it through Irma unscathed. Apparently, water got in and undermined the wood floors along one wall. we didn’t notice, but the home inspector and his moisture meter did.
Though the damage affected only a few square feet, three flooring companies all said we had to replace the water-damaged wood and then sand and refinish the entire downstairs.
The Lesson: Owning a house is like having children: If we knew in advance all the pain, inconvenience and expense they would engender, we would be homeless or extinct. Wood floors are a great example: They’re expensive and time consuming to install, but their character, versatility, longevity and cleanliness make them worth it.
IN NOVEMBER I abandoned all concern for personal safety and literally picked up a complete stranger at a paint store and invited him to follow me home. Ladies, this is no way to choose a painter. I was at the paint store getting samples for the new house, when the customer next to me asked if I had a painter. No, actually. Well, his crew was available, and so I invited him to follow me home. I can be such a fool when I’m desperate.
Fortunately, Jerry White, owner of JW Painting, of Orlando, has a sterling reputation. Phew!
The Lesson: No matter how badly you want work done at your home, don’t let it trump personal safety. There are better ways to pick a contractor.
IN DECEMBER I learned the secret to a better life. I had volunteered to host a party, knowing that I would have only been in my new house for two weeks. DC worried it would be too much. But, in a sure sign that I am getting older, I assured him: “I am not going to stress about it.” In that instant, I realized I just might have figured out the point of life: Less stress, more joy!
If I wait for my house to be “done,” whatever that means, to host a party, I will never have a party.
Just as this dawned on me, I got an email introducing me to entertaining guru Susan MacTavish, known the world over for her A-list parties.
Because I wanted to make a memorable evening for my friends, who are A-list to me, without killing myself, I asked for advice. Number one, she said, Forget perfection. “If you aim for perfection, you will be miserably disappointed, and will annoy everyone along the way.” Beyond that, be sure people get a drink and a nibble when they walk in, say yes to guests who offer to bring something, and keep the food simple and the lights low.
The Lesson. Care less. Entertain more. You only get now once. Happy New Year!
CAPTION: Wanna get away? She sheds like this are proof that few forces in the universe are stronger than a woman’s desire to have their own space. Photo courtesy of Erika Kotite.