Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Since last month my kitchen has been an impossible disaster as I strip forty years of ugly paint from the cabinets. It's a task that has niggled my mind since I bought the house back in the last century but before this summer I managed to find a slew of excuses for not plunging into the process.

Oh sure, it would be SO much easier to just demo the entire room down to the studs and start over. The DIY cable shows make it look like a piece of cake: bring in a crew of brawny guys in muscle shirts to heave the shabby cabinets into a boxcar-sized Dumpster, hang the pretty cherry boxes, fit shiny granite counter tops and gleaming sink and faucet. All the fixin's. In a day or two the old kitchen is an unpleasant and distant memory.

But that was not how I was taught to do things. Back in the 1940s my parents bought a Victorian Era farmhouse in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and almost immediately started tearing it apart. It started innocently enough when they discovered that the "foundation" of the house consisted of wooden blocks - which were disintegrating to mush. Dad figured that was a good opportunity to add a basement. Just dig a huge hole under the house, pour concrete walls and floor . . . well, that was the general idea. Next came adding an edition with three bedroom and a bath, then removing the second story. Followed by building two enormous sandstone fireplaces by hand (We kids learned masonry that summer). Tiling the bathroom. Building a deck. It went on and on, year after year - always something in the works.

Have to admit I resented growing up in that chaos. We kids couldn't have parties or sleepovers because the house was a construction site. I couldn't invite friends to my house for fear they'd kill themselves falling over the stacks of lumber. My bedroom in the attic had no walls, just rafters. When I whined about how crappy my life was all I got was the promise: "When the house is finished it will be beautiful, perfect. You'll have all the parties you could ever want".

I grew up and moved out without seeing that happen. When Dad died in '78 the house was still not "finished". When Mom sold it a few years later the new owners brought in a crew to complete the renovation. Yet now from the vantage point of old age I realize a few things. The experience of watching (and helping) my parents work on that miserable wreck of a house provided me with an unparalleled education in self-reliance. I learned to hang wallpaper, drive a nail, run a floor sander. I know what a two-by-four is and how to mud Sheet Rock. I am not afraid to get dirty or put in a new light fixture. I absolutely LOVE painting! Nothing makes me happier than repainting a shabby room. Such a feeling accomplishment!

And a lesson in how to live - the importance of continual renewal. Nothing is ever "finished". Living is a process - as soon as you complete one project there is another on the horizon to engage your attention, spark your creativity. Get your juices flowing. The minute you decide there's nothing left to do is the minute you die. It's as easy as that. Maybe not physically - at least not right away - but dead in your own dusty attic. Once you are not creating, or re-creating something in your life you have left life. Knowing this, I keep tearing things apart and putting things back together - better, brighter, cleaner, more efficient . . .

I'm in the midst of renewing myself as well. This past weekend I completed the second series of trainings toward becoming a yoga instructor. Today the muscles are still a bit sore but I feel I've come a long way in the rebuilding process. One thing yoga teaches is that a person is always learning, evolving, and becoming. As soon as you think there's nothing left to do or learn something falls apart, peels off the wall or shorts out and you're off on another project. And hurray for that I say! Drop on by and I'll hand you a paint brush.