Decorating the house (with pictures even)

We moved into this house in June.  Before that, we spent a few months living in an apartment in an adjacent town.  When my husband accepted his current job, we began looking for a house around here, but when the time came to move, we hadn’t found one yet, so we settled into that apartment and didn’t plan to stay long.

It was great: we only unpacked the essentials, and everything else went straight into storage, which was a little corner of the attic.  Each tenant got his own little corner of the attic.  We did keep the books in the apartment, so the attic air wouldn’t do weird things to them, but they stayed in their boxes.  Every week when I cleaned, I dusted bare shelves and cardboard boxes, and it was a breeze.  I loved it.  I thought to myself, “See?  We don’t even need all that stuff in the attic.  I don’t miss any of it.  Except the wrapping paper.  And the cake stand.  But that’s all.  Maybe Th. will forget about it when we move.”

It would have been the easiest drop-lifting experience of our lives.  I could even have labeled our stuff with someone else’s name.  “It says Smith.  Must belong to Smith in apartment 12.”

But we didn’t do that because it would have been irresponsible and dishonest.  And I do like my cake stand.

Green velvet cake on the cake stand. In the background, a nice spinach salad.

Anyway.  I really loved the bareness of that apartment.  It felt so clean and uncluttered, aside from the boxes.  Nothing on the shelves, no photos, no nothing, just the clock radio and the coasters and one throw for the couch.

When we moved into our house, I resisted decorating.  I couldn’t do anything with our bedroom because Th. was remodeling it, and we were going to stay in another room until he finished.  Certainly there was no point in decorating our temporary bedroom.  In fact, that room is too small for our headboard and foot board, so we just have the mattress on top of the box spring on top of the floor.  We left the headboard in the dining room and the foot board in the living room, and it doesn’t look too terrible.  But it means we can’t paint the living room and dining room until we move into our new bedroom because the head board and foot board are heavy, and we don’t want to move them any more than necessary.

This is not a decorating strategy.

Since we were going to paint the living room and dining room at some point (we already have the paint), it didn’t make sense to put out a bunch of knick-knacks only to put them away again.  I wasn’t even sure I liked my knick-knacks anymore.  I read a book that said too many women try to cover up decorating errors and indecision with a lot of knick-knacks, and that they should instead get the “bones” of the decorating scheme all worked out first.  So I couldn’t decorate before painting.  And I couldn’t paint until our bedroom was done.  And we couldn’t finish our bedroom as soon as we thought, for a variety of reasons.  So, no decorating.

I eventually put some books on the shelves in the dining room because Th. is a collector, and he likes to be able to see his books.  That’s okay.  But I didn’t put out anything else, not even on the mantle.  The mantle is kind of ugly, and there’s a big plastered spot on the wall above it, where the former owners mounted their flat-screen.  I thought, “Oh, that wall is so ugly.  If I put anything on the mantle, it will only draw attention to the ugly wall.”  So I left it alone.  It looked like a work in progress, but I thought, “Well, okay.  It is a work in progress.”

See the spot above the mantle? He is looking in the wrong place.

But then, last week, after I had cleaned the house, it still felt … unfinished.  Clean, but not pleasant.  I like it to feel extra nice and welcoming on Fridays, and I wasn’t feeling welcomed.  I plumped up the couch cushions, but the house still felt cold.

For a lack of any better ideas, I went down to the basement (the basement!  you know I have to be desperate to go down there!), opened the box of picture frames, and took some out.  I brought them upstairs.  I dusted them off.  And I put them on the mantle.  And you know what?

Do you know?

It looks amazing!  And we can see all our loved ones all the time!  There they all are!  I mean, you’ll have to take my word for it because I have no “after” pictures to show you.

It is a small thing, but it makes me so unreasonably happy.  I can’t believe how much time I spent without these faces on the mantle!  And I was arrogant about it too:  “I’m so detached and cool,” I thought, “I don’t even need pictures.  I’m not like ‘those women’ who have zillions of pictures in their houses.”

For goodness sake.  I didn’t know I was thinking this; I thought I was just being practical.  But since when is it better to be cool and detached?  And why am I condemning women who like their families?  I ought to be more like “those women,” since they obviously have souls, whereas I apparently do not.

We’re not painting the living room before spring, that much is clear.  And we’re not moving into the remodeled master bedroom any time soon either.  That’s all okay with me.  Th. is working hard, but he keeps getting side-tracked by more urgent projects.  We’ll get it done eventually.  But who says we can’t enjoy our house and look at our family members’ faces while we wait?

In another post, I will share how I “decorated” our temporary bedroom.  If I can get the camera working, you’ll even have some “after” pictures.  Prepare yourself.  This is what I started with.


And now squirrels

We had a bit of a mold situation.

The hot water heater leaked all over the basement floor while we were on vacation.  We were able to get it fixed for free after only a few days without hot water, and I marveled at how quickly the basement dried itself up.  Everything seemed okay, except that some of our stuff got wet (we have no shelves down there, so all our boxes are on the floor), and some clothes I had been meaning to donate needed to be washed.

But it turns out that the basement dried up quickly because someone put in the wrong kind of insulation and drywall.  They put in the kind that absorb water, you see, so the walls sucked up all the water, and then mold grew.

I didn’t know much about these things, and I hate being in the basement (which is why those boxes and to-be-donated clothes had been neglected), so I just went down there quickly, washed the walls with bleach, and retreated.  I did this a few times because the mold kept coming back.  Clearly the situation required more than bleach.

So on Saturday, my husband ripped out the infected drywall and insulation, and I dragged it all upstairs and outside.  I spent today sweeping up debris and scrubbing what remains with bleach.  I hope this takes care of it because this is unpleasant work, and I think I have chemical burns on my fingers.

What is wonderful though, is that I’m no longer afraid of the basement.  Nothing makes you brave in the basement like tearing out the walls, scrubbing them with harsh chemicals, and seeing that there really aren’t as many spiders as you imagined.  Nothing came out and got me after all.  Now I am queen of that basement (but not by my own power, I can assure you — there was a lot of prayer involved).

So what’s interesting, I think (and Strunk reminds me, though I won’t heed him here: “Instead of announcing that what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so.”).  Anyway, what’s interesting is that, although I dreaded going down there this morning, digging around in the walls, and putting my hands where spiders are most likely to be, although I dreaded it to such an extent that it gave me nightmares, despite all that, what ended up being the most disturbing part of the day was the squirrels.

We have a shocking number of really fat squirrels climbing all over the house.  And they’re all acting weird.  Two weeks ago, one got inside the screened-in porch and ran all around, knocking things over and gorging himself on birdseed.  I guess this isn’t especially strange behavior, but the thing is, these squirrels are not easily deterred.  I bang on the doors and windows, I yell at them, I try to intimidate them, but they won’t leave.  They may take a few steps back, but they don’t run away.  Just now I have returned from the kitchen, where I found one sitting outside the window, staring in at me.  I banged on the glass, and he didn’t even blink.  It’s their boldness that irritates me most.

The problem today was that I wanted to carry all the moldy drywall out through the back porch, so I wouldn’t have to carry it through the living room, and so the neighbors wouldn’t see me in my disgusting bleach/mold clothes.  But the squirrels had the porch, and I’m not ashamed to admit that they make me nervous.  Squirrels can be vicious, that’s my understanding, and there were two of them on the porch today.  At the same time.  They’re growing in confidence.

So I need to figure out a way to put these squirrels in their place.  And I don’t think I can simply spray them with bleach.  I imagine if I tried that, they’d stare back at me and ask, “All right, but can we have some more birdseed?”

Spiders in the house

“…I’ll bet you monsters lead interesting lives…”

In our house there are a great number of those small, thin spiders, like miniature daddy-long-legs-es.  They don’t bother me, but of course they cannot be allowed to remain.  Every day I sweep, and as I do, some of the dust tries to walk away.  Those are the spiders.  I squish each one under my shoe, and I eulogize: “And so, having re-disposed of the monster, exit our hero…”

The spiders don’t put up much of a fight.  If I didn’t sweep them away, they would get bigger, but they wouldn’t move.  Once they get too big, though, they move to the basement.  They seem to have some size cut-off that I don’t know about.  The upstairs vacancies are filled quickly.

My sister lives in California, where spiders “walk brazenly in from the porch,” as she says.  They just saunter into her living room like they own the place.  She has taught her three-year-old son that boys protect girls, including Mommy, by killing spiders for them.

We did have a bad, scary spider in our house once.  I was washing my hands in the bathroom when, in the mirror, I saw him, scurrying down the wall behind me.  “Biggest spider in the world!” I called out, and I ran into the bedroom with dripping hands.  Th. would not be rushed.

“He’s probably gone by now anyway.”

“If you hurry you can still catch him.”

“I need a shoe.”


“Oh, for shame!  Just look at your fingernails!”

We didn’t find the spider that night, so my shoe spent the night atop the toilet tank.  I told Th. that when he can’t find the spider I want killed, he should wait until I’m not looking and hit the shoe against the wall and make a lot of noise, just to make me feel safe.  He says he can’t do that.

Anyway, I have my shoe back now because the next day, Biggest Spider In The World was in the shower.  I drowned him.

In early September, Th. and I visited my California sister and her family.  We hadn’t seen them in over a year, and I was afraid we suddenly wouldn’t like each other or have anything in common anymore.  But then she was showing me her shoe collection, and she said, “Oh, this one is missing its mate because its mate stays in the bathroom for killing spiders.”

Yes.  We still understand each other.  I expect if she had a basement, she would do as I do, and call out from the top of the stairs, “Spiders and mousies, run and hide!  I’m coming down, and I don’t want to see you!”