Friday, July 30, 2010

Reflections on 13 months as a housewife

Tuesday evening I patched my first drywall hole. 

Our master bedroom used to have a shelf on the wall for a TV. 

We didn't want this shelf.  And it was just at the perfect height for us to hit our heads.  (Yeah, we're not always the most graceful or attentive people.)

In the name of safety--well, actually in the name of destroying nemeses--one of the first things P did when we bought the house was to take the shelf down.  Like, a month before we actually moved in.

The shelf had cable and electrical outlets built right in.  When we took it down, we discovered a surprisingly large hole had been cut into the wall to feed these cables.  For four months now, we've been looking at this lovely hole over our TV each evening.

I decided that enough was enough, and if I wanted this situation changed, I had better take care of it myself.  P's to-do list was far too long already. 

For context, I had done one spackle job before this, repairing a hole about the size of a 50-cent piece.  P had taken over halfway through, after I had gotten myself in over my head and made a number of mistakes he labeled "amateur."

P found me out right at the beginning of this process, but exercised remarkable restraint and did not take the job over.  He went out to the garage and busied himself building a ramp to get the coal stove (and whatever large items we dispose of in the future) out of the house.  I had the house to myself to blunder along and make whatever mistakes I needed to in order to get the job done.
Digression: Irony of the Day: We used to have a ramp on our house, to allow easier access for elderly residents.  It covered the stairs you see in the picture--coming out toward the photographer.  I loved the ramp, especially when we were moving in our fridge and when the washing machine delivery men arrived.  P hated the ramp with a passion.  I went away one weekend to attend a friend's wedding, and while P was left unsupervised, he demolished the ramp.  But he saved the components, and here they are a month later--built into an entirely new ramp. 

Sidenote to the digression: I have to admit, that this ramp is a significant improvement on the old one.  P can come out the kitchen door and push the handtruck straight down the ramp.  With the old ramp, the handtruck had to come out the door, execute a 90 degree turn to the right on our relatively small landing, and then continue down.  With a large, heavy item on the handtruck, this was a particularly delicate steering maneuver.  The new ramp location is significantly safer.

Back to the main story: Before P bowed out of involvement with the project, he convinced me that I should enlarge the hold just an inch to the right to include one more stud, so I could anchor the patch more firmly.  I got out a razor blade and started cutting.  And then started prying, and wondering why I was so inept and couldn't just get a small piece of drywall out?

Turns out the drywall was glued to the stud.  WTF?  Not standard construction practice in any book we've read.  Knowing that there was a good reason I was having a hard time here, I pulled P out of the garage to ponder the glue with me, and get the offending bit of drywall out for me.

Then I cut my new piece of drywall, grabbed some drywall screws, the drill, and P's magic drill bit that prevents me from drilling the screws too deeply into the drywall, and went at it.
Not too shabby, right?  (Well, other than the embarrassing empty screw holes where I confused the marks I had made for myself denoting the stud locations with the marks that the shelf installer had made many years ago signifying the center of the hole.  This was one of those moments where I was glad P was in the garage.)

I grabbed my mesh tape and spackle tools, and two coats of spackle later, I had this:
In total, it took me four coats of spackle to get things reasonably covered and smooth.  (Standard recommendation is for three coats.)  It would certainly look better if P had done it.  But if P had done it, it would still be a hole in the wall right now.  And I think this looks a lot better than that.

Later that evening, while the first coat of spackle was drying, I headed into the kitchen to do some baking.  Pioneer Woman Ree had posted a blueberry crumb cake recipe that morning, just as I was fretting about the blueberries in my fridge that needed to be used before they spoiled (as I had let the blackberries do just a week earlier).  (Spoiler alert: The cake turned out well, but rather too sweet for my taste.  I should know better than to deviate from the blueberry crumb cake recipe that my mother bequeathed to me, the one that calibrated my palate.)

I got well into the cake baking process when I discovered that there was no baking powder in the house.  No disaster.  We did have baking soda, and I had been planning to add some lemon zest to the cake, because I believe almost every blueberry recipe will be improved by the addition of lemon.  I just squeezed in half the lemon juice as well so there would be enough acidity to activate the baking soda, and all was well.

But the whole incident got me thinking.  We have no baking powder in the kitchen not because we ran out, but because I threw away all but the most valuable kitchen ingredients when we moved in February.  Spices, balsamic vinegar, good wine and chocolate made the cut; nearly everything else was trashed.  No baking powder in the kitchen signified that I hadn't baked a cake from scratch in over six months.

I've been unemployed since getting married last June.  Certainly the terrible economy has had something to do with this, but it's been more about a whole host of personal reasons and choices: taking some time to catch my breath after finishing school, a long and unsuccessful job search in one field, the choice to change careers, the choice to move for P's career and wait until we were settled to commence my own job search, taking some time to get the house set up rather than jumping right into the job market, etc etc.

I never pictured myself as a housewife.  I've adjusted to the situation much better than I expected.  It's been nice to have some time to work on other things.  If you had asked me a few years back to speculate on my life as a housewife, I would have imagined myself bored and isolated and bitter (which I almost never am).  I'm sure I also would have imagined all of the extraordinary culinary concoctions I could make with the new-found time on my hands. 

The events of Tuesday night provided an interesting opportunity to reflect on how unexpected my current life is, and how surprised I am to find myself largely content in it.  There's no baking soda in the kitchen, and not only am I failing to create lovely desserts, but I generally panic at 5:30 most days because I have no clue what we're going to eat for dinner, and there are few ingredients in the fridge or pantry to work with.  But I am managing to patch large, unsightly holes in the wall.  I never imagined myself taking on that, or any of the host of other things I've been working on lately. 

I'm good with this life.  I'll take it.

That said, this is actually my last week of "full-time" unemployment.  I've registered as a temp worker with P's employer, and will be eligible for assignments beginning Monday.  I'm not sure what this will bring--how often I'll be working, or on what projects.  I tend to like structure and predictability in my daily life, so exercising this kind of flexibility will be an interesting growing experience.  We'll see how it goes!

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