Month: August 2020

Upside Down Summer Days

In the summer my days are upside down. Mornings are when I’m most able to be mentally focused on complex tasks. It is when I can tear through a pile of emails and answer them all. It is when I can sit down with a book design project and really get into the flow of it. It is when I can find the words of a scene, or write a blog post, or solve a plot problem. Mornings are my best thinking time. Afternoons are better devoted to tasks that are physical or rote. The type of work which just needs me to put in the time without requiring much available brain. Because I have less brain available in the afternoon. I used it all up in the morning. However the summer weather works against me. Gardening and home renovation projects are perfect for my afternoon brain, however afternoon temperatures in August in Utah are 95 degrees. Much too hot for me to engage in physical labor outdoors or in the garage. If I want to work on my patio project, it has to be the first thing I do in the day. If I want to stain trim, I have to get it done before the sun heats up the garage. These soothing low-brain tasks end up using time and energy during my best braining hours. This leaves me trying to do thinky tasks in the afternoons when thinking is like slogging uphill through mud.

(Amusing side note, my spell checker objects to the word thinky but not the word braining. Even though I know that both are me abusing standard usage.)

This upside-downness of summer is contributing to my restlessness these past few weeks. It wasn’t so bad in June and July because the pace of life was still pandemic slow. Days were long and I ended up with hours for my thoughts to spool slowly. The past few weeks have not been slow. We’ve had more store orders, more customer support, more home improvement work, more appointments, more school prep, more paperwork to never have to deal with school again, then even more appointments to dive into GED prep. On top of all that other more-ness, I’ve been doing work to update my websites in preparation for some new ventures. New ventures require emotional energy for me to believe in myself enough to launch them. The end result is that I am greatly looking forward to the weather cooling off a bit so I can put my low-brain activities back into the afternoon where they belong.

Choices and Statistics

It was an anti-drunk driving billboard and I drove past it regularly while taking my kids to and from lessons. “Don’t become a statistic!” it proclaimed. Seeing the message always tugged at my brain because the writer either didn’t understand (or chose to ignore) how statistics actually work. In the analysis of “people killed or hurt by drunk driving” we’re all already part of those statistics. Most of us are in the “not directly injured by drunk driving” column. What we don’t want is to move into the other column. We don’t want to be on the painful side of the statistic.

Last week my son and I signed papers for him to drop out of his senior year of high school and do a GED instead. For many reasons this makes sense for him. The most obvious being the straight up math of spending 4-6 hours per day each weekday for eight months to earn the diploma, vs spending 1-2 hours per day for a month or so to pass the GED. Both the diploma and the GED allow him to move forward in his life. This choice gets him to the “moving forward” part much more quickly. Yet there is loss in this choice. There are gifts and lessons in classes with teachers which he has to give up. He no longer has a school librarian to connect with. He is no longer connected to a system of teachers and administrators whose jobs are about helping him grow. Also “moving forward” is murky for us while pandemic makes getting a job or going to college high-risk activities.

My son has moved columns in school statistics. He’s now tallied up with those who drop out rather than those who graduate. I feel like his decision to do so was a direct result of the pandemic disruptions yanking him out of the classrooms last spring. That experience and this summer of quarantining changed him and drove his current choice. (Which, again, is the right one for him. I fully support it.) As a society we’re still collecting pandemic statistics, but I expect that the drop out rate for the 2020-2021 school year will be much higher than years prior. Some of those drop outs will be like my son who took a conscious claiming-power step in his life. Other drop outs will be kids who got so lost in the cracks that their best avenue for survival was to abandon schooling. Every drop out story is one of choice or survival, often both.

Dropping out of high school or college is most often framed as a failure either of the individual or of the system, yet the realities are always more nuanced that a binary success/failure. I’ve now assisted three of my children drop out of four different schooling situations. Every time the choice was a mix of both failure and success. Every time we tried to be value neutral while doing failure analysis, to say “why didn’t this schooling experience turn out how we expected/hoped?” The answers teach us about what systems work for my kids as individuals, what doesn’t, and what insights they can carry into the next experiment in moving forward. Each time we have emotional work to do in order to not internalize failure into identity. (The specter of parental failure looms large in my mind on some days.) The fact that they opted out of situations that had become bad for them doesn’t impact their value nor is it a predictor of what will happen next.

Failure is a data point. Analysis of collected data points is statistics. Statistics can tell us useful things about systems and large groups of people, but is useless in describing an individual choice. Yet accumulations of choices are what statistics are made of. And sometimes it takes years before the impact of individual choices is able to be analyzed statistically. The line between pandemic onset and my son dropping out is short and direct. Yet there are elementary age kids and middle school kids whose paths have been nudged toward the dropping out path. There are probably other kids who have been nudged away from that path. We are only just beginning to see the changes that pandemic has wrought. For my family, next week will be about establishing patterns around GED study and long-term everyone at home. In some ways it is simply reverting to the patterns we adopted over the summer, in other ways it is different.

Back to School

I’d stopped noticing the effects of pandemic life on a daily basis. I’d stopped being alerted to changes at the grocery store, in traffic patterns, in social media. I suppose that means I’d achieved an equilibrium of some sort, perhaps even a “new normal.” Today it all came slamming back. Today is the first day of school for kids in my school district. The grocery stores were bustling at 8:30am instead of empty because parents stopped by on the way back from dropping kids at school. I may have to adjust my shopping schedule to not have to dodge people in the aisles. The familiar patterns of my household have to shift to accommodate the fact that one family member is schooling. I am sad / afraid that people will get sick, while simultaneously not quite seeing what the big deal is about, while logically knowing that whether or not things feel normal/ safe I have a social responsibility to take action to prevent possible spread of illness. In some ways I’m feeling the way that I did back in March. Like all the feelings were stored in a cupboard in my brain right beside the back-to-school habits.

Right now Utah is experiencing a decline in Covid 19 cases. We’re not quite down to the levels we had in March and April, but the trend is that direction. But elementary, junior high, and high schools all welcomed students onto campus today. Next week the university in my town welcomes students on campus. The week after that the university in the adjoining town starts on campus classes. Given that combination of things, I don’t believe the decline will continue. Between the pandemic spike I expect to watch unfold in real time, and the increasing social noise because of the election, I’m going to have to reinstate (or invent) some mental health strategies. For today: I’m staining trim pieces for my pantry wall and I’m trying not to impulse spend on all the things.

The Feelings of Today

So, somehow I didn’t realize exactly how expensive kitchen counter tops are. I thought the cabinetry was the biggest expense followed by flooring. And I’d managed to bring the cost of cabinets down by a lot. I had that stacked exactly upside down. This is unfortunate because every type of countertop I’m willing to consider is outside my skill set. Today I gulped and started the process of purchasing the counter top for the pantry wall. Today I also revised my estimate for finishing the rest of the kitchen much further out because the cost of those counter tops have to be saved up for. That’s the part which makes me saddest, the delay.

Stacked on top of the sadness because expense and delay, is a thick layer of guilt. The fact that we can put any resources at all into kitchen remodeling is evidence of a level of financial stability that many people do not have. Especially right now. Even in my own head, to allow myself to improve my home, I have to do everything I can to reduce costs and make sure I salvage materials and pass them on freely to someone else. Hardwood flooring and old cabinets will both be donated rather than dumped. I find it hard to let myself just spend resources making my spaces nicer simply because I want them nicer.

The sadness and guilt are sprinkled with a fine layer of fatigue because my sleeping has been off kilter the past few days. All of it rests on a bedrock of anxiety about the state of the country, the post office, the pandemic, and impending school year. My head is noisy today. The best thing for it is to get some sleep and have a different day tomorrow.

Long Slow Remodel: First Section of Floor

We got the first section of flooring laid. As usual Callie and Milo were super helpful.

So helpful

Even with help we got the new floor in place.

Having it there already changes the feel of the space. The stone look has a cooler feel than the wood, but it already creaks way less and will be far more durable for the way our family lives. Now we can move into the next phase, assembling the pantry wall. I’m sure the kitties will help there too.

Long Slow Remodel: Flooring Begins

Today I began the work to tear out hardwood flooring so we can lay down LVP instead. I was pleased to discover that I’m going to be able to salvage the hardwood planks so they can be donated to habitat for humanity.

Being able to donate the planks makes me feel better about pulling up good hardwood. Why am I tearing it out if it is still good? Many reasons. The first being that not all the wood is good. There are places where water damage has warped boards. The wood next to the door where water leaks in has begun to show signs of dry rot. Second, we’ve already got areas where there are holes in the flooring. Most notably the spot where we removed a closet to install a railing instead.

You can also see spots where the wood was removed to make space for the railing.

While it is possible to patch these sort of things, the reality of doing so is exceedingly tricky. Also there is the fact that we’re planning on removing a superfluous wall which will create an even larger and more visible gap in the flooring. On top of the existing damage, our experience with floods and hardwood floor maintenance has led us to conclude that our family will be better served with a different material on the floor. Hopefully I’ll get to show you the stuff we’re installing soon. For now, here is the space that I’ve cleared so we can install flooring and then cabinets.

School Decisions

Back to School shopping looks different this year

So many decisions are difficult this year. More than that, we are faced with difficult decisions on topics that didn’t require decisions last year or any of the years before that. One of these difficult decisions is the one parents have to make about sending their kids to school. Everyone has opinions. Many people are very adamant about theirs being correct and would like mandates requiring that their preferences be made the rule for every child and family. I’ve felt the pull of that myself, the fearful fury of “why can’t they see how stupid they’re being?” The problem is that each individual family has dozens (or hundreds) of variables that may not be visible from the outside. The families have to weigh all of those variables and try to chart the best course for their children through a terrain where all the paths are perilous. I’ve heard of parents who are oblivious and unconcerned about the pandemic, but I’ve not actually met any. All the parents I know have been struggling and weighing their choices. Some have landed on homeschooling, others will be sending their kids to classrooms. All of their decisions have been carefully considered. All of them are afraid of the consequences of the choice that they’ve made.

The thing that frustrates me is that it didn’t have to be this hard. In 1983 Salt Lake City Utah had a spring flood so bad that a sandbagged river was created through the streets of down town. It took a massive emergency effort to control the water and limit the damage it did. In 2011 the snow pack and spring flood conditions were nearly identical to 1983, but there was not a river through down town because millions had been spent installing flood pumps and overflow areas. Advance planning meant that people’s homes and businesses were safe from damage. Right now school administrators, teachers, and parents are frantically trying to figure out where to place the sandbags because the flood might be on its way and there aren’t any pumps or overflow areas in place. No amount of local sandbag stacking can do the work of advance planning. Parents, teachers, and kids are left in a situation where none of the available choices are good ones.

I’ve only got one school age kid. This is his senior year. Fortunately he’s completely uninterested in most of the trappings that typical teenagers want. He won’t care about canceled school dances or missed social events. He’s completely indifferent to a graduation ceremony. His indifference will make the coming year emotionally easier, because I expect to see most of those things continue to be canceled. Next spring’s graduations will look like the ones we had this past spring. The thing he does care about is having teachers to interact with, having a place to go where there are things to learn, and having access to a library of books. All of the things he cares about are easier to accomplish if he is in the classroom. I feel strongly that packing 30 kids into a classroom isn’t in the best public interest even in non-pandemic times. If he were at a school which planned full classrooms, our choice would be a clear “no.” With his smaller, alternative school that only has about 6 kids to a class… there are additional variables to weigh. The choices are not easy. Not for us, not for the staff at his school who work with kids who have been tossed into their hands as a last resort. These teachers watched kids slip through giant cracks when everything moved online. My kid was one of the ones who vanished in the cracks despite their best efforts and mine.

It is all experimental. Every district plan, every classroom plan, every family plan. None of us knows what will work and what won’t. Every plan is good for some people and bad for others. This was always true, of course, but now we see it all differently. We’ll muddle through, aborting some experiments, adjusting others. After the flood is over, we then need to spend time, effort, and money putting structures into place so that the next time we have a flood (be it pandemic or some other thing) life can continue undisrupted.

Crown Molding Triumph

Last year when we were putting up cabinets in the front room, I also purchased crown molding. I stained the molding and cabinets to match each other. The cabinets went up in April 2019, then the rest of that year went into emergency repairs and the first half of this year was buried in pandemic. The project intimidated me because the angles on crown mean visualizing things upside down and backward, then holding long strips of wood over head tight to the ceiling while wielding a trim nailer. Baseboards are so much easier. They lay flat against the wall and gravity assists instead of fighting. This week our flooring order arrived. That meant I was ready to launch into the next phase of kitchen remodel. However putting up crown is much easier when cabinets aren’t in the way. So I finally did the anxious thing: I rented the necessary tools and devoted a day to nailing things to the ceiling. Happily the tool rental folks treated me like an intelligent tool-using fellow human, which isn’t always guaranteed when a woman goes to rent power tools. Also, having a miter saw made the work go so much smoother. Five hours later I have crown.

I love it. I’ll love it even more when I’m finally able to remove that wall with a couple of old cabinets and the fridge.

While we were doing crown and picking up flooring, Howard noticed something odd with one of our front windows. Yup, those are cracks. The heat deflector we put up last summer was apparently bad for the glass, (oops) though it made the room much more livable. So next week I get to make phone calls about glass replacement.

Fortunately I don’t have to do the actual work on glass repair (other than making the call.) Instead I can focus on this space which is about to become a pantry wall.

But first, some rest. I’m pretty tired from overcoming anxieties and hefting power tools all day.