Strange Days Indeed

The other day when I was out for my daily walk and standing at a stop sign waiting to cross the street, a van that I didn’t recognize came to a halt beside me.  I looked inside to see who was driving and saw a former neighbor, K, waving at me.  I always liked K when she lived here, but lost touch with her after she moved away five years ago.  So when I saw her, it pleased me.

She rolled down her window and we started to talk.  Or rather, she started to talk.

She told me she was in town on business, and had borrowed this van to drive out to see her old stomping ground.

She brought me up-to-date on her kids.

She explained why her husband’s job had taken them first to the east coast, and then to the middle of the midwest.  She talked about the houses she’d lived in   since she moved;  and how she missed this neighborhood and her old house here.

She knew the whereabouts of a few of the families who used to live on the street back when she was here, and told me about them.  I updated her about the families who were still here– and about the neighborhood curmudgeon’s latest issues.

Eventually the conversation turned to a more personal tone, and I took the opportunity to tell her that I thought her new hair style and color really flattered her.  She’d gone from a long dark brown layered style to a short golden blonde bob.  She looked great.

And then the conversation got strange.

She laughed and said, “Thanks.  I decided that I wanted to die a blonde.”

At first, I thought she said: “I decided to dye it blonde.”  But slowly it registered in my brain what she had said;  and that she was waiting for me to respond.

Hoping that I had misheard her, but fearing that I had not, I said: “Oh, that won’t be for a while.”

But I was wrong.

Come to find out, she has terminal breast cancer with a couple of years left to live.  The change in hairstyle happened after many rounds of chemo during which time her hair fell out and then grew back gray.  So she decided to take advantage of the situation, and become a blonde.

Being totally stunned and at a loss for words, I said a few trite, encouraging things to her;  but I imagine that she’d heard these sorts of platitudes many times over.  So I just let her continue to talk.  There was nothing much that I could add to the conversation.

She talked a bit more about the details of her disease, and how her faith in Jesus was helping her cope.  She talked about how she wasn’t really upset anymore about the unfairness of this situation, and that she was just doing what she wanted to do all the time now.

Then she looked at her watch, realized what time it was, and started to say good-bye to me.  I asked her for her email address, but she said she couldn’t remember it.  I told her mine, but I doubt that she really cared.  This was to be our last conversation, I realized.

With that, she thanked me for talking with her and drove away.  Drifting off in that casual way of suburban acquaintances.  Just gone one day, never to be heard from again.

Leaving me standing by a stop sign– sad, confused, numb.  No longer interested in going for a walk.  No longer sure about much of anything.

The Just Say Nope To Taupe Project

Twelve years ago we had our house built.  Today we both agree that the floor plan is great for us.  It’s a transitional style home, so we have rooms that are traditional and we have rooms that are contemporary.  The rooms are juxtaposed in such a way as to create an interesting, non-cookie cutter feel to the house which adds a fun energy to the place.

But I never really liked how the inside of this house looked.  We worked with the builder’s interior designer and I’m not sure that she knew what she was doing.  She gave us pinky beige and taupe walls– with dark cherry cabinets, creamy tile, yellowish bathroom counters– and shiny brass knobs and door handles everywhere.  I trusted her, but either she put the wrong neutrals together because she was stupid.  Or she put the wrong neutrals together because she was malicious.  [We refused to go with her first design plan for our house: purple walls, leopard print, shiny brass with beveled glass light fixtures, and black counters.  Really.  Not kidding.]

So for eight years we lived with what we paid for.  I tried to correct a few of the rooms but ended up with a so-so look in each space.  It bummed me that things never looked right and Zen-Den, who has a good eye for decorating, was too busy at work to focus on how to fix things here at home.

Then four years ago, in what I can only describe as a burst of peri-menopausal bravado, I announced that: “If I’m going through the change, so is the house.”  Zen-Den, bless his heart, said: “okay.”  And with that, we set out on what has come to be known as The Just Say Nope To Taupe Project.

Since then it’s been almost non-stop change.  We’ve kept the furniture and accessories that we both liked– and sold, Goodwilled, or St. Vincent de Pauled the rest.  [A few antiques still need to be sold to a dealer.]  We’ve painted or had someone else paint almost all the walls and ceilings and trim in the whole house.  [One room to go.]  The kitchen has been entirely remodeled and the master bathroom has been refreshed.  And now we’re to the point where we’re slowly removing the old wall-to-wall carpet and putting wood floors downstairs/new carpeting upstairs.

While I did have a pretty good idea of how much money it was going to cost to redo everything, I didn’t have any idea of how much clutter this project was going to generate.  At some point in the last four years every room in our home has undergone some sort of change– which has created various degrees of chaos caused by stuff shifting back and forth between rooms and the basement.  Zen-Den has taken this process in stride.  Me, perhaps, not so much.

I’m glad that we decided to do this whole house overhaul instead of moving, but I won’t lie and say that it’s been a fun project.  It’s been very anxiety inducing for me, an English major turned self-taught interior designer, to make all these color and style choices.  Obviously, improving a house while property values are dropping across the country is a bit of a worry, too.  I doubt that we’ll ever get our money back from The Just Say Nope To Taupe Project.  But I don’t know that I really care about that.

What I do care about is the fact that we have a home with a cohesive color scheme, comfortable furniture, and a sense of our quirky personalities— three things that were lacking previously.  We’re relaxed when we’re at home now.  It’s our house fixed up the way we like it.  And we both feel like we belong here– finally.

Apparently I Belong In Canada

“How do you define a better life?”

An intriguing question, yes?

One that I’d never put much thought to until I found the Create Your Better Life Index, a simple interactive tool, which helped me focus on what is important to me and how to prioritize it.  Using this tool I realized that for me the topics that make life better are: community, education, safety, housing, jobs, health.  I place much less emphasis on: environment, governance, work-life balance.

By evaluating my preferences, the Create Your Better Life Index told me that I belong in Canada.  Or Australia.  Or New Zealand.

Okay, I can see that.

I also learned that I absolutely don’t belong in Chile.  Or Mexico.  Or Turkey.

Well, no big surprise there.  

And as for the USA?  It turns out that it is my 11th perfect country to live in on earth.  It follows seven northern European countries.

Hmmm.  Didn’t see that one coming.  

While I take the results of all online tools with a grain of salt, this one made me smile and reflect upon the fact that we are who we are– no matter where we live on the earth.  Geography exerts its influence, but temperament trumps it more times than not.

N’est-ce pas?

[Added 06.06.11 – Check out this article from MSNBC: “US doesn’t make cut for happiest nations list” – More info re: top 10 happiest countries.]

Hello Summer

::  We had a fun holiday weekend with three days of sunshine in a row.  This is something that hasn’t happened around here in six months.  ‘Twas wonderful.

::  We went to a high school graduation party that was held at a cabin on a family farm.  To get to the party we drove out-of-town into the countryside to a small road lined on both sides with cow pastures.  From there our directions told us to look for the balloons and turn right.  We did as instructed, driving on a rough path down the middle of a cow pasture, over a small hill, and arriving at a lovely party totally hidden from view when on the road.  It was nice to be outside in a relaxed atmosphere– watching kids play games, talking to other guests, drinking beer, having fun.

::  We decided to go to the cemetery to see the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall.  It was interesting and well-planned.  The scale of the wall is smaller than the original, but it still manages to re-create some of the original’s ambiance. If nothing else, this exhibit gives an inkling of how amazing the real wall is– and perhaps encourages those who have never visited Washington, D. C., to do so.

::  While at the cemetery we walked around for a while.  Wandering through the grassy areas we saw all sorts of unique tombstones and family markers.  One said, “integer vitae.”  Neither one of us knew what that meant so when we got home, I researched it.  This is a phrase from a stanza from an ode written by Horace.  “Integer vitae” is telling you to live a life of integrity so that you’ll be safe no matter where you go.  Good idea, huh?

::  To decorate for Memorial Day I put red-white-blue stars-&-stripey pinwheels in the flower pots by our front door.  And then I put two smallish flags in a flower-pot along the front walk.  EZPZ, but stylish and inviting.  However, except for one other family on our street who put out one big flag, no one else decorated for the holiday.  Don’t know what to make of that.  This neighborhood usually goes overboard for any and all holidays.

::  We finally had a cookout– our first of the season.  Burgers and veggies cooked on the grill.  Fresh berries on ice cream for dessert.  Served with delightfully cold white wine spritzers.  Simple and delicious.  Just the way summer is meant to be.

Talking Dirt

We live on a wooded ravine lot that slopes down to a creek.  And we have a swale on our property.

While sitting on our deck or in our screened-in porch we look directly into the woods behind us.  It is beautiful to see the trees year round.  It is less beautiful to look down into the ravine below and see the soil erosion that is causing our backyard to disappear.

So today I meet with a land planner to discuss his idea about what we’re going to do about our back yard… that is gradually slipping away into the creek… leaving the pillars that support our deck perilously close to the edge of the swale… that allows rainwater to naturally flow into the creek.

This is going to be an expensive mess to fix.  I just know it.

In Which We Learn A Bit More About The Beans

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I took the Right Brain vs Left Brain Creativity Test.  It was straightforward.  No right or wrong answers.  A fun kind of test.

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It said that I am 52% Right Brain and 48% Left Brain.  My most dominant Right Brain characteristics are Fantasy-oriented & Intuitive.  My most dominant Left Brain characteristics are Verbal & Linear.

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Does this mean that I’m well-balanced?  Or does this mean that I’m equally mediocre on each side of my brain– not being able to excel in one direction or the other?

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Being more Right Brain than Left Brain means that I am a creative thinker who visualizes the “whole” picture first, uses what appears to be illogical and meandering thought processes, yet finds an innovative solution to the problems at hand.

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Yep, that’s me.

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Zen-Den took the test.  He is 56% Left Brain and 44% Right Brain.  His most dominant Left Brain characteristic is Verbal– just like me.  His second most dominant Right Brain characteristic is Fantasy-oriented– just like me.

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 I’m guessing that it is the overlap of the same strong dominant characteristics that makes us so compatible.  ‘Cause on the surface we are very different.

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He is described as a critical thinker who uses logic to collect information, sees only parts of the “whole” picture, which he puts together in a step-by-step systematic manner to arrive at the conclusion.

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Yep, that’s the hubster.

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The results of this test were surprisingly accurate.  It confirmed what we knew about ourselves and helped us understand what we didn’t realize about ourselves.  Very interesting.

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If you get a chance to take the test (allow 10 minutes), let me know what you think about your results.  Do they describe you, or not?

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[Please note: the italicized portions of this post represent my summary of the test’s conclusions using mostly their words.  I’m too lazy to punctuate properly today.]

And Then Good Things Began To Happen

I’ve said more on a personal level this week than I usually do in this blog [or anywhere else for that matter].  I’ve been detailed and intense, not my usual light-hearted self.  Talk about going outside your comfort zone.

But you know what?  I’m really glad that I did.

Within 48 hours of publishing– what I will always think of as– my adios posts, I received five messages from friends and family who I haven’t heard from in months, or even years.

Not one of them had read what I said in the blog, but all had suddenly thought of me– not to get something from me or to put me down— but to say “hi!”

On top of that, five people who I don’t know but seem rather pleasant,  just kind of appeared in my corner of the blog-o-sphere/twitterverse to say “hi!”

So here’s what I’ve learned this week: for me it is difficult to put personal relationship stuff out there in the world, but it’s worth the risk.  Life balances.  Out with the negative and insincere.  In with the positive and authentic.

Wonder why it took me so long to figure this out?

Just grateful that I did.