The Year of Living Thoughtfully – A New Beginning (Part I)

Journal Entry, Thursday, July 03, 2008
Clean, pack, label, lift, repeat.  Not exactly a shampoo bottle, but there is a sameness that is noticeable long about the fortieth time and it’s becoming my mantra.  The boxes that the admin assistant at work saved and sent home with me (bless you, Valda), which seemed far too numerous before, are in danger of becoming too few!

We are in Day 7 of the 9 that each of us has off during which we have committed to getting my roommate of several years moved to a new house.  The layers of Oscar Madison-ness are being peeled away, and although the herniated discs in the bottom of my back are reminding me I should be taking more breaks, the suddenly emerging empty spaces urge me on.

I look around at the newly visible corners of hardwood flooring (birch, with lots of figure).  I installed it piece by piece, pilot drilling and nailing with tiny finish nails while scooting around seated on a foam pad because using a regular air nailer would have damaged the hydronic heating system that clings to the underside of the subfloor.  There are still several dozen boxes of the same wood stacked between the kitchen and family rooms, waiting to be installed upstairs.  Doorways without casings, raw edges of sheetrock around the windows, unfinished doors leaning against the walls near where they will eventually be hung…all have been on hold for many months and now challenge me to pick up where I left off at last.

No, this was not an easy house to build;  but it is a good one, and I am releasing being resentful any longer at the clutter, the lights left on, my table saw covered with a collection of roadside finds and so forth, certain at last that it’s extremely temporary.  Friday.  Independence Day.  It is taking on a whole new meaning.

Journal note, mid-aft 7/03/08
Our friend John is coming over after work to help move the black  side-by-side refrigerator-freezer that has stood like a monolith in the laundry room for the past several weeks.  A garage-sale find, it has at least helped us each organize our food stores more effectively;  but the difference in the power bill, combined with the start of central air conditioning season, has been noticeable.  I note that between the removal of the Beast, and other differences in life habits, I may actually enjoy a lower bill in July!  I can hope….

With the ‘fridge, a pile of boxes, and bags of clean laundry gone by late Thursday, I was able to start cleaning the now-airy laundry and mudroom – a space of 10′ x 19′ that had actually managed to feel cramped for a time.  Now it was possible to actually walk in a straight line to the drying rack and a piece of cardboard that serve as a low room divider to keep Barney the Briard out of the cat food, and I found myself actually enjoying sweeping, vacuuming and wiping down the appliances.

Whenever the remaining cleaning and packing in other rooms started to overwhelm me, I’d head for the laundry and just stand there, enjoying the lightness and an almost palpable sense of free flowing energy.  Speaking of which, where’d I put that book on Feng Shui….?

Friday morning arrived overcast and muggy, and we worked as quickly as we could, concerned that moving a box spring and computer hardware might be preempted by rain,  but the weather held steady with a forecast of thunderstorms for later at night.  We got the last of the essentials into the truck by late morning, and I followed in my car with clothing on hangers laid carefully across the back seat.  Several hours and a two more round trips later, I bade my friend a good first evening at the new house, and headed home to enjoy a long shower and get ready to watch three distant displays of fireworks visible over the tree lines.

It has been a personal tradition of mine to sit on the front porch on the Fourth evening each year and sing the Star-Spangled Banner to myself.  Between the fireworks and the electrical storm, I think it is safe to say that even if my neighbors were closer than the more than 250’ that separates me from the nearest of them, my anthem would still have remained unheard.  Barney and I sat enjoying the spectacle until at last, the wind-driven rain sent us inside to light candles and prepare for the inevitable power outage.

Journal Entry, July 5th
P’s cats were not pleased about being put into kennel carriers for the trip to the new house, but we had made sure there would be enough that is familiar there to welcome them.  They have pop-up “cat cubes” to play and hide in, the wicker and rattan furniture they favor over my upholstered pieces, and the table fountain from which they like to drink has been set up in the guest bathroom.  I was concerned that Barney might get stressed out at having several members of his “flock” move out; but he seems content as long as his favorite – the Calico wide-body named Pyewacket who helped raise him – is still a fixture in our household.

I walk from room to room, taking in the blessed quiet, letting this astonishing change that has come over my home and my life sink in.  There will no doubt be further visits back and forth as we discover the occasional article belonging to each other among our own things; but the important change has been made.  I am on my own now, assuming full financial and personal responsibility for this place in which I have so much of myself invested.  I am cleaning away not only dust balls and cobwebs, but habits and assumptions built over years; and now, everything I do must be examined.

Does this thing that I used to do automatically make sense now?  Is there a better or less expensive or more environmentally/fiscally sound way to do it?  And what of finishing the inside of the house?  What projects do I already have the materials for and which will have to be saved for?  What can I reasonably expect of myself on a daily basis after work and still enjoy the process?  Can I keep my writing a strong priority and exercise the self-discipline it takes to walk my talk?  I think back on some important words that were spoken to me years ago by a close friend at a time when I was questioning myself and my tenacity.  He said simply, “Sherry, you’ve done everything you ever said you were going to do.”  He said it in a tone of straight forward observation, and yet the impact those words had was enormous.

And so, this first year – a window of opportunity to blast myself out of any preconceived notions or false complacency – begins.  I have set several goals for myself, from the refining of living as well as I can as far below my means as possible, to finishing and publishing a book I’ve been talking about and researching for so long that people who believe in me are beginning to wonder if I’m kidding.  I am committed to keeping detailed records of everything I do, so that at the end of this year, culminating with July 4th of ’09, I will know what works and what doesn’t for me and this solitary-but-connected life I’ve chosen.  I’ll share with you what I find that works and what doesn’t.  That’s what community is all about.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check the load of laundry I hung to dry on the larger of the two back porches.  When my tractor starter is fixed and I can catch up with mowing the acreage between the back of the house and the tree line, I’ll also be planting a heavy duty pole to attach a pulley line that will go from the smaller back porch out 50′.  The box from Lehman’s containing the line and pulleys is on top of the dryer which, if I’m vigilant, will see little use over the coming warm months.

Journal Entry July 7th
I took this extra day off and have had Mr Barrett come and change out the locks (fittingly, the equipment room door into the garage had been left not only unlocked but the door ajar) and Mr Pugh arrived to cut the long-overdue pasture out front and side that proved too much even  for the Amish’s biggest Percherons.  I took the loppers to the weeds around the mailbox and for the first time in many months, feel the way I did when I was building and trusted myself to keep things moving the way they should. 

I am also living a dream seeded years ago based on childhood memories:  There is nothing – nothing! – like line-dried sheets.

About SherryEllesson

Sherry Ellesson is a freelance writer and part-time homebuilder who lives and works in central Delaware. Originally from New England, she credits having been raised by hearty, self-sufficient people for her willingness to stay the course on the journey back to homesteading.