House-owning n00b

Look, it’s my dirty garage, just as the contractor abandoned it!

I moved around so often growing up that as an adult I’m still not certain what it means to own a home. We have our share of issues to contend with still (like argh, the plumbing CONTINUES TO LEAK), but I’m slowly beginning to realize that I can do whatever I like to it. How liberating to imagine that I could paint the whole thing bright magenta if I want, and nobody could say no. (Except future purchasers. They might say no.)

A month ago, I decided to give up on waiting for a certain AWOL contractor to resume his job (picture above) and clean the garage. This snowballed from a weekend of garage cleaning (results below) into “wow, this space can be used for household projects” to “hey let’s paint this inherited piece of furniture.”

I’ve learned so much in the process. I’ve never painted furniture before, and my family helped me figure out wood and primer and various coats of paint. Then a woman at the art store gave me a swift and practical lesson on making stencils with acetate, and suddenly we had a cute item of furniture for my daughter’s room.

I see how it is, home ownership. It’s addictive because it lets me nest more easily. If I’m not careful, I suspect I’ll start sticking seasonal wreaths on my front door.

Anyway. Here is a photo essay of my path from dirty garage to clean furniture.

At the beginning of the month, I gave up hoping that the contractor would return, and spent several hours mucking out the garage. Suddenly it became clean and empty. “We could even…fit a car in here, or something,” Dave said.

My mom prodded me mercilessly about this painting project until we actually did it (she knows that my usual household project path is deep procrastination), in my AWESOMELY CLEAN garage.

With everyone’s help, we finished three coats of white paint before breakfast one morning. It’s amazing how easy it was to paint something. I never knew.

Late Saturday night, my daughter and I did this. Stencils were a bit harder. I admit that I became a perfectionist about them. My daughter sighed at me a lot.

Somehow we finished it (with a small trip to Lowe’s to more firmly anchor the hutch). But look, it’s awesome, and neatly covers up the floor ruined by our leaky plumbing! And yes, that’s next on the agenda…


A long expected birthday

A long time (but less than a decade) ago, I had a child on Chinese New Year. She was born on the first day of the year of the rooster. I was so certain that she’d be born the day before that I decorated her room with monkeys (for year of the monkey), and her nickname stuck.

Thai people celebrate Chinese New Year. Actually, they have the happy luck of three: January 1st for Western New Year, Songkran in April, and Chinese (lunar) New Year between the two.

Monkey’s first birthday had a Chinese New Year theme. We had a bunch of tiny one-year-olds over to our small graduate school apartment, and Monkey dressed up in a set of little red Chinese pajamas. I remember that the party was noteworthy for the large plastic tablecloth that we spread on the floor. We stripped the children to their diapers and let them rip into the cupcakes.

There was frosting everywhere. I remember washing it from behind Monkey’s knees.

Monkey’s birthdays have since become more elaborate. Each year her birthday theme has been different. She’s been through princesses (of course), Mardi Gras, doughnuts, and other things. Chinese New Year moves around on the calendar depending upon the moon, and this is the first time in eight years that it’s been on her actual birthday again. This year will be the year of the snake.

When I mentioned to Monkey that her birthday fell on Chinese New Year again, she said, “I want to have a Year of the Snake party! And pie, I want pie.”

I like to keep her birthday as DIY as possible. We make our own invitations (last year’s invitations were also fun, a card with a doughnut on it), some of our own decorations, and a few games. My husband cooks. We do tend to buy the pastry though, because I wouldn’t make anybody eat what I’d bake.

I fretted a bit about decorations, but my local Party City came through. It totally had a Chinese New Year section, complete with snake banners and tiny dragon toys. This is what we’ve made for Monkey’s party so far. I’m crossing my fingers for good weather (and that mama has time for some strong coffee beforehand)!

Monkey got really into planning, and made little thank you notes to put into each treat bag. “Because you are going to forget to send thank you notes,” she said. She knows me well, I am not very good at sending cards for anything except Christmas.

I do know that as long as the kid has friends and dessert, it’ll be a successful party.

2012: One of Those Years

The themes for the year were: Health, creation, family, roots, and an appreciation for what I’ve got!

In January, I realized that drawing gives me a lot of joy. I enrolled in a six-week art class at a local art school, and that was fun. But (since time is short) I decided that I’d dedicate every work meeting to the multitasking effort of doodling something AND listening at the same time. My meeting notes were fun! (And they actually helped me concentrate on the meeting, go figure.) This post is illustrated with some of my crazy doodles from meetings.

In February, I spent a lot of time focusing on slowly recovering my body from chemotherapy. I got acupuncture and tried to quit my latte addiction (I totally failed).  My child turned 7.

In March they said my cancer was successfully treated. (It was, honestly. Just not all of it. Cancer is a tricksy thing!) I rode my skateboard and hung out with my child and read her every single Astrid Lindgren book. I’m sure other things happened too, but I mostly just basked in the joy of a temporary surcease from chemotherapy and stuff.

I kept cutting off more and more of my hair. By April my hair was just plain SHORT! We also began to look for a house to buy. It was a weird cognitive shift to want to buy a house somewhere, as if for the first time in nearly 40 years, I felt like putting down roots.

It was interesting to think about making a place a home. I always thought I’d be too restless to settle down anywhere. The deciding factor was that with a house, we could grow a garden. Still, it was a completely different way of looking at where I am. I realized that rooting somewhere means that I can get active in the community and make positive changes for the good — which is something I’ve been avoiding for too long.

In May I had my 39th birthday. My child graduated from 1st grade; I went to a wedding; I helped throw a baby shower; I celebrated Mother’s day… And we kept looking for houses.

June brought long summer dinners out-of-doors with friends, hurricanes, and a lovely birthday present trip to NYC. Traveling makes me feel alive, and this was no exception!

July. Dad had a blood clot in his thumb, which precipitated a small whirlwind weekend trip in which my kid (sick from croup) met her cousins and saw the Stone farm in upstate NY. It was lovely to reconnect to the Stone family.

In August we found a house and put in an offer! And … then we waited, because it was a short sale.

In September I learned through an endoscopy (routine check up) that another spot of my cancer returned. C’est la vie. There were also big family birthday parties and the start of second grade for my kid. We went to our first roller derby, and this month basically sucked.

October, my favorite month, was a bit marred by dealing with cancer stuff. I went through the usual tests and learned that the cancer was still small, slow-growing and containable, so I could treat it just I did like last time. Moving on, I had a fabulously crazy Halloween party at work, and devoted myself once again to creating crafts. House news? Nope!

November. I thought chemotherapy would be the extent of my worries, and then my dad’s accident put it all in perspective. I made another sudden drastic trip to hang out with him in Hawaii. I hadn’t been back to Honolulu for over a decade, and everything was lovely and weird at the same time. I stayed across the street from my old childhood apartment, and sat by my father’s side every day in the ICU. It was scary yet nice to see him, and a week was far too short a time to be by his side. My heart is still with my dad and Debbie even though I had to return home and continue my own treatments. House news? Nope!

December. I made a concentrated effort to have chemotherapy and spend my extra time creating things! This month was so much better due to the release of The Hobbit, and gave me an excuse to happily talk about Lord of the Rings to all and sundry. We’ve also attended parties and family gatherings and Skype sessions with a still-recovering dad. We’ve spent time with friends and family, some of whom we haven’t seen in a long time. My kid sang in a Christmas performance. We baked a lot, and I started crocheting again. Life moves on, even when sh*t happens. House news? …

Yep!  We finally have word on the house, one of the seller’s mortgage companies has OK’d our offer, and we’re awaiting word from the second one. I hope to hear about it by sometime next week, because we’ve got to get our house ready for visitors from far away in March! (Putting down roots in 2013 is going to be so very weird, but hopefully good at the same time.)

I have no idea what to expect from 2013. I admit that I’m peeking at the year cautiously, one hand in front of my eyes, hoping it doesn’t one-two punch me the way that September – November did this year. Still, we’re all alive and growing and learning, and that counts for a lot.

Peace and health to you all, and thanks to the family and friends that kept us alive and well and happy this year!

Doodles, depression, dealing with it

“We can’t stop here, this is bat country!”

Ever since hearing the news that my cancer never actually went away, I’ve done some hard thinking. Obviously the first question that I asked was, “Wait, you said it was in remission, why’s it back?” Well, turns out that my cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) grows so slowly that the chemotherapy medication Rituxen (Rituximab) doesn’t cure the cancer so much as only kill the growing cells. Therefore, anything dormant remained in my body until it lazily woke up and decided to grow again.

“Have a RAPTORous Halloween!”

The first time around I thought, “So, I have cancer, but if I put my body through a lot of terrible stuff I can exterminate it and it’ll be gone.” This gave me a lot of hope, and a very positive outlook. I felt like I had Cancer Lite ™! Then it came back, and my first-time-around innocence was wrecked by the fact that yep, I actually have cancer, it’s persistent and virulent, and it’s probably not going away easily.

When I realized that my cancer might never be fully treated by chemotherapy, and that it might return often, I got quite depressed! The depression didn’t lift until I got some good news on Tuesday, that the cancer might still be around, but it was once again in a small area, and we caught it before it got to the rest of my lymph system.

We’re trying to figure out a different treatment for this stubborn spot of cancer. Maybe it will be surgery (I’ll have a surgical evaluation next Tuesday). Maybe it will be a different set of chemotherapy drugs. What helps is knowing that even though it’s an enormous drag to have it back, it’s still something that can be dealt with.

I am incredibly lucky when it comes to depression. I don’t have any sort of clinical depression, so when I get depressed, it’s usually for a very good reason. The second it felt like my issue wasn’t life-threatening, my good mood returned. I focused on all the bad stuff that was NOT happening to me, and upon the fact that even if this is a life-long illness, at least it isn’t a DEATHLY illness, and shit happens to us all.

I filled my schedule with a lot of things (corn mazes and Disney and concerts and all kinds of stuff), and I also drew a lot. Creating ridiculous doodles is my reaction to stress, so I made some elaborate Halloween postcards. I made sure I was having fun! I tried to keep in mind this very important fact:

Enjoying life is the way to really live it!

Next step, surgical evaluation. I’ll keep people posted.

Drawing La Calavera for remembrance

October is my favorite month, and always has been, but it might just spill over into November this year. My kid is in an elementary school program that focuses on Spanish. Because of this we take the time to read up on Spanish-speaking cultures, and it was the perfect time of year for us to learn about Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

These are first and foremost happy days (there are two!) rather than sad. According to legend, the dead cannot return along a path made slippery from tears. On November 1st and 2nd, all kinds of traditions collide and become a Mexico-wide celebration of those who are gone.

The traditions come from a merging of celebrations of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl (the lady of the dead) with Catholic traditions of All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day. These days are marked by celebrations in which the dead are remembered in a loving and light-hearted way, and certain foods are cooked (including pan de muerto, sweet bread made to look like skulls), graves are cleaned and decorated, and much merriment is made.

I drew my own too

One famous bit of iconography from the day is La Calavera, the skull. It is made into art, and into the form of sugar candy or chocolate that is put on altars to feed the dead (who apparently have a sweet tooth, which explains Halloween). These sugar skulls also given to the living as a reminder to suck the sweetness out of life. These skulls are not scary or sad, in fact, they are decorated with symbols of rebirth — orange/yellow marigolds, vines, and bright colors.

In honor of these days, my kid and I decided that we wanted to make a few of our own Calaveras on blank post cards that we can send to people this month. This is what we did!

Heh, for my kid to follow

— Strathmore Kids Post Cards
— Pencil and eraser for penciling in our designs
— Gel pens and colored pencils
Google search for “Calaveras” for good examples of the colors and design motifs.

I sketched out some instructions based upon studying various websites with pictures of Candy Skulls, so that my kid had something to follow. I think she did a great job!

My kid made a candy skull drawing :D

The important parts are keeping the skull simple but happy, because Dia de los Muertos is a time of happy reunion of the dead with the living, and using the motifs of orange marigolds, vines, and flourishes. I was inspired and drew a few too! So in honor of remembering those that are gone, and in honor of the life we have right now, happy Dia de los Muertos (early).