The Finished Product!

The newly upholstered chair!

The chair is finished.  It’s already at home in the living room—cozying up to an existing throw pillow as if they were soul mates.

It’s hard to believe that this is the same chair that, at first, was such an outcast that my son wouldn’t help bring it in from the car until he was sure that none of the neighbors were watching.

What a difference a little fabric and a lot of staples can make!

The Chair, before.

But, I can’t give all the credit for this transformation to tools and materials.  As our dear President once said, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.”

My help has come by way of my upholstery class instructor and classmates.

Our little group, known officially as “Upholstery  A14142,” meets once a week at the G Street Fabrics store in Falls Church, Virginia.  Years ago, when the first G Street Fabrics opened, it was actually located on G Street in northwest Washington, D.C.  That original store in the city closed years ago–but the name lives on.  My class is held at one of the store’s remaining suburban outposts, in a strip mall.

Every Wednesday, my four classmates and I unload furniture (in varying states of repair), tool boxes, foam, and bags of fabric.

Where the magic happens.

We’re an eclectic bunch made up of the newly retired, the young underemployed, and a few mysterious characters who, “work from home.”

Our instructor, George Samos, is a Greek octogenarian.  But, his advanced age hasn’t slowed him down a bit. George can thread a needle in the blink of an eye and wield a staple gun like nobody’s business.  George owned and operated Samos Interiors in Rockville for many years.  He’s semi-retired now.

When the six of us get together, it’s a bit like the “Whistle While You Work” scene from Snow White, just replace the singing forest creatures with chattering suburbanites.

While busily working on our individual upholstery projects, we take turns talking about everything from the accent walls we’re thinking about painting in our dining rooms to why Malala Yousafzai deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.  We give each other suggestions and encouragement:  “You should try adding some brass tacks.”  “I love your contrasting cording!”

Me, tufting a pillow.

And, in the midst of all this, George never misses a beat.  If you omit a staple, forget a tack, or apply your fabric upside down, George catches your mistake and patiently (mostly) helps you fix it.  He makes sure that you end up with a piece of furniture that you’re proud of.

I love my chair, and I’ve loved working on my chair.

A chair upholstered by one of my classmates.

Recently, Fortune magazine named Google, again, the best US company to work for.  Why?  Because Google offers employees a work that is personally fulfilling, freedom and control of their time, and an environment that promotes the sharing of ideas and opinions.

Wow, sounds a lot like my upholstery class.


I’ve Got Hands. Who knew?

October 2013 House Beautiful magazine cover.

October 2013 House Beautiful magazine cover.

The cover of October’s House Beautiful magazine features four gold-accented, Regency style chairs partnered with a round, ebony dining table that together are the height of elegance and good taste. It was just this kind of furniture eye candy that I had in mind when I started my upholstery classes a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve always been in love with furniture.  I come by my passion honestly.  Even during the days when my parent’s budget was so tight that moving up in the world meant putting an addition on our trailer, my mom would always make time for a “looking” trip to Ethan Allen or Thomasville.

Me and George

Me and George (my upholstery class instructor).

But, now that I have four upholstery classes under my belt, I’m a bit surprised by what I’ve found to be most gratifying about this particular foray into the world of furniture.  My realization:  I really love working with my hands.

Sure, after this is all said and done, I’m gonna end up with a beautiful arm chair (I hope).  And, yes, gaining upholstery skills will open up endless possibilities for more fabulous furniture in my life (I really hope).  But, in many ways, what keeps me looking forward to my weekly classes isn’t just the product, it’s also the process.

Chair in my trunk

The chair fits in my trunk. Yipppeeee!

There’s something deeply satisfying about using my two hands to renew a material object, in real time.  With each cut of the scissors, tap of the hammer, staple of the gun, the chair is changed, improved.  I even feel a weird sense of accomplishment just lifting the chair in and out of my car. There’s no theorizing, or reflecting, or pontificating.  There’s just doing.

The work is straightforward and useful, but also absorbing.  Never has four hours gone by so quickly as when I’m in upholstery class.

Chair with newly stabilized side

The chair, with webbing added for stability.

There’s an old Irish blessing that begins, “May you always have work for your hands to do.”  I say Amen to that.

Chevron: Yesterday and Today

Nit and Typewriter

Me and one of  grandmother’s pillows in the background.

My sixth sense kicked in recently, big time.  I’ve got nothing against reason and logic, but sometimes what you’re really looking for is a feeling in your gut.

And, it was just that feeling that hit me, when I saw a piece of Chevron fabric among the remnants at my local G Street Fabrics store.

You remember Chevron—it’s that repeating “V” pattern that looks sorta like the insignia on an Army Sergeant’s badge.  Everybody’s grandmother crocheted Chevron patterned afghans and to this day, a Chevron pattern encircles Charlie Brown’s bright yellow top.

The word Chevron originates from the old French word for rafters (makes sense).  Historians tell us that the pattern has been around since almost 1800 BC and was used in pottery and architecture by the ancient Greeks.

The pattern had a revival in the 1960s with the Mod movement in design and was popularized by Pierre Cardin.

Chevron Quilt

Afghan with Chevron pattern.

I don’t know a lot about fancy French designers, but I do know that I grew up with lots of Chevron in my life.  My grandmother Eva was a crocheting machine.  Everything she made had a Chevron pattern in it—throws, pillows, hats, scarves.  But, she didn’t call it Chevron.  In her lexicon, it was called a ripple stitch.

Somehow, all that Chevron must have lodged itself into the recesses of my brain, because it started coming back to me last Wednesday while fabric shopping for Blue Chair.

I’d been looking for days for just the right color and pattern for re-upholstering this thing.  And, so far, I kept coming up empty.  I saw a lot of beautiful fabric, but nothing was speaking to me.  That is, until I flipped over some generic Modal and there it was, that old familiar “V.”

I didn’t make the connection to my past right away, I just knew that there was something about this fabric. I had to have it.  And, lucky me, they had 6 yards of it!

Stripped Blue Chair

Blue Chair stripped down to frame.

Blue Chair is now stripped down to its frame, ready to be newly outfitted.  And the memories are more clearly fixed in my mind—a Chevron patterned cape for Sunday School, a crocheted sofa pillow with ripples inside of ripples.  It’s all coming back to me, now.

I’m just glad that I followed my gut and gave my brain time to catch up!

A Tale of Two Chairs

Brown Chair

Brown ChairHighway 52 runs for 150 miles from the South Carolina state line to Virginia.  It goes through what is known as the North Carolina Piedmont region, right through a small town called Morven, North Carolina.   It was on Highway 52 in Morven that I met Brown Chair.

While driving along, I found myself doing a double take.  Did I just see a gorgeous mid-century modern arm chair sitting by the side of the interstate?  I’d been looking for just such a chair for weeks. I made an immediate u-turn.

Sure enough, on this sweltering summer’s day, there sat three arm chairs atop an old piece of plywood held up by sawhorses.  Two of the chairs were Wingbacks, lovely—but, not what I was looking for.  But, the third chair, it was money–vintage 1960s with track arms, tapered legs, the whole shebang.

The proprietor of the roadside establishment introduced himself as Mr. Owens.  He was a straw-hat-wearing, elderly, black gentleman who could’ve stepped right out of the 1960s himself.  After exchanging a few pleasantries and identifying “who our people were,” we got down to business.

“So, how much do you want for this chair?” I tried to be all cool disinterest.

He stroked his chin, looked me up and down, and pegged me for an expatriate sucker.  ”Twenty-five dollars,” he said so boldly that I knew I was getting the inflated out-of-towner pricing.

Note:  I think that economists might cite this as an example of “economic divergence.”

Anyway, I contained my giddiness and managed to say straight-faced, “Hmph. That’s a lot, but I’ll take it.”

I didn’t actually have room in the car for the chair.  So, we used the honor system.  I paid Mr. Owens his $25 and he agreed to hang on to Brown Chair until I could figure out how to get it home, some 400 miles away.

He kept his end of the bargain and after an ordeal that included field mice, fantasy football, and estranged second cousins, I managed to get Brown Chair to Maryland.

The chair is covered in a handsome menswear tweed fabric that I don’t plan to replace.  True to its old age, it’s a bit saggy.  I’ll give it some new welting and maybe re-tie its springs and it’ll be good as new.

If this chair and I have a story, so far, it’s definitely a romance.  I’m smitten.

Blue Chair

Alas, despite my love for Brown Chair, it still needed a true companion.

I wasn’t headed back to the Tar Heel State anytime soon, so the partner chair would have to be found closer to home.

The search presented a few challenges:

1. Vintage mid-century modern furniture is hard to find.

2. Vintage mid-century modern furniture is expensive (unless you buy it on Highway 52).

3. I was starting an upholstery class (for which I needed the chair) in a couple of days.

4. I had to find a match for Brown Chair.

Miss PixieI figured the best thing to do was to hit local vintage shops and thrift stores.  So over the course of four days, I slogged to more places than I want to remember, but here are a few names:   Sage Consignment, L’Enfant Modern & Antiques, Miss Pixie’s, GoodWood, Mom N Pop Antiques, the Georgia Avenue Thrift Store, the Goodwill Store, and Modern Mobler.

I saw an abundance of cool stuff–including a chandelier covered in paper butterflies and an antique Smith Corona typewriter.  And I talked to lots of interesting and sometimes quirky folks.

In one stuffy, old shop in Kensington (I swear, I’m not making this up) I inquired about a strip of leather that I’d picked up and figured for a cowboy lasso or something.  The owner, an ancient woman who had full casts on both her arms (I’m not kidding), said to me very sweetly:  “Dear, you’ll probably want to put that down.  I got it from the estate of an old white man from South Africa.  I was told they used it to whip the blacks.”  I put it down.

Anyway, it proved to be Room and Board–a place that doesn’t even sell used furniture–that would provide the breakthrough.  Going there was a bit of a fluke. I’d coincidentally parked in front of the place while visiting Miss Pixie’s.  However, when I saw it, I thought browsing might spark some creative thinking.  It did.

At the very front of the store was a vignette of reproduction 1960s style furniture that paired an angular side chair and sofa with a second arm chair that was—wait for it—CURVY.  It was gorgeous.

Aha!  My second arm chair didn’t have to have the same angular lines as Brown Chair.  This was a revelation!

Later that same day, I decided to visit One. More. Store.   I went to my old standby–Value Village.

I’ve mentioned the Village in earlier blog posts.  I go there often to make donations and to hunt for clothing treasurers.  But, furniture was new Value Village territory.

As you might expect of a thrift superstore, they had all the large scale items sitting outside in the parking lot. Great.  I wouldn’t even have to get out of the car.

Blue ChairI did a slow drive-by, taking in the discarded Playskool kitchen sets, the cribs, the overstuffed 1980s recliners.  But there, tucked among a sea of crap, was a powder blue miracle.

Even from a distance, I could tell that it was a really old chair. A closer inspection and some measuring confirmed the chair’s style (definitely Mod) and its compatible size.  I also saw that it had beautiful tapered legs hidden under a skirt.  The arms and back had a sexy curve.

This was the chair.  The price tag was stapled to the seat cushion–$19.99.

If this had been a movie, sun rays would’ve beamed down and the “Hallelujah Chorus” would’ve started playing in the background.

I snagged Blue Chair faster than you could say, “Eat your heart out, Mr. Owens,” and took it home.  It wasn’t an immediate hit with the family.  I can’t say that I blame them—it was covered in a soiled “old lady” damask fabric and smelled like moth balls and Vicks Vapor Rub.

I took Blue Chair to upholstery class on Wednesday.  While enthusiastically ripping off the old fabric, I found a yellowed paper tag stapled inside.  The chair was made by Valentine Seaver Originals in Binghamton, New York.  A little poking around on the internet revealed that some of the company’s designs are in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.  I knew this thing had class.

So, what’s our story?  It’s definitely an epic adventure.  But, it remains to be seen just exactly who ends up saving whom.

A Space Age Space

Look for the unveiling of the new basement studio space in the coming weeks. But for now, my next couple of blog posts will be about [drumroll, please] my adventures in upholstery!   


Celebrity designer Nate Berkus once wrote:  “My home tells the story of who I am. The things that matter most to me are collected and assembled all in one space. I have a lot of things but there is not one piece, not one item in my home that I don’t have a connection to.”

Nate’s words have been on my mind a lot lately–especially while I’m sitting in my living room.

Despite a ten-year relationship, my living room furniture and I don’t have much of a connection. At best, we tolerate each other.  The hefty living room arm chairs are from IKEA.  I think they’d much prefer to be in a sprawling downtown loft space—someplace that could do justice to their size.

I know I’d prefer furniture that’s smaller in scale, but weightier in substance.  To use Nate’s language, I want furniture that, “tells a story.”

And what story would that be?  I’m not exactly sure, but I know the tone should be more space age optimism and less new millennium ennui.  The IKEA chairs really need to go.

Actually, I want a mid-century modern living room.  Complete with vintage furniture from the period.

All of this “wanting” coincides nicely with another current aspiration of mine—to learn how to upholster.

For me, upholstery is about connection.  Connection to textiles, craftsmanship, design, my own history (my maternal grandparents were both fine tailors and upholsterers).

So, I’m changing the character of the spaces around me by changing the contents.

I guess this post is more about creating meaning than finding it.

Coming up next:  Find out about my “new” old chairs!

A Lovely Mess

Jewelry Box

Aunt Ercelle’s Jewelry Box

Last week, my kids and I made a road trip to Wadesboro, North Carolina to visit my mom.

Nowadays, going back home is a very different experience from just a decade or so ago.  All of the once thriving small businesses have closed (B.C. Moore’s department store, Tollison’s pharmacy, Scarborough’s hardware), replaced by the Wal-mart out on Highway 74.   I rarely run into old classmates.  The economic downturn forced even the most diehard Wadesboro-ites to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  And perhaps the most glaring difference—so many of the grownups of my youth have passed away.

My Aunt Ercelle died in June of 2012.   My family and I had stopped by her house to visit her Memorial Day weekend.  I knew that she didn’t seem well.  During our return trip home, while stopped at a gas station, I received the call from my mom with the sad news.

I can’t think of Aunt Ercelle without a big smile spreading across my face.  She was, as my dad always called her, a mess.  Not a mess as in tragic or disastrous, but rather an outrageous, bold mess.  She was sort of like a black Mae West—if Mae West had been a church organist and school teacher.  Go figure.

Aunt Ercelle always dressed to the nines.  The old men who sat around at Mr. Rayfield’s store would say that she was, “Cleaner than the board of health.”  She did all of her shopping at South Park Mall in Charlotte, which to the rest of us may as well have been Paris’ Avenue des Champs Elysées.

As I mentioned, she was a bit outrageous.  I’ll never forget when she stopped by our house one Sunday morning on her way to church to model her new full length mink coat.  I’m not sure if all of the farmers, textile mill workers, and turkey catchers at church were able to appreciate it, but I sure thought it was something special.

The coat may have been of dubious origin.  After she left, I remember hearing my parents whispering things like, “it must have fallen off the back of the truck” and “that thing is so hot, I’m scared to touch it.”  I told you she was a mess.

I could talk about Aunt Ercelle all day.  Her exploits as a school teacher alone could probably make up a two volume set.  But, alas, I must get to why I’m writing about her for this blog post.

During my most recent visit home, my mom gave me my Aunt Ercelle’s jewelry box.  It’s a lovely 1950’s Japanese black lacquer, hand painted box.

As you can imagine, Aunt Ercelle had scads and scads of stuff—closets full of dresses, shoes, and Etienne Aigner pocket books (a favorite of hers).  Her son held an estate sale of sorts, and sold most of her belongings.  But, my mom snagged the jewelry box for me.

I’d always admired the box.  It sat on Aunt Ercelle’s dresser.  I can remember eyeing it when my head was barely above the dresser top.  It seemed like a treasure chest to me—full of baubles and bangles.  And, it played music.

Aunt Ercelle loved to tell the story of how one of her many suitors had given her the box.  The young man was a soldier stationed in Japan.  Even miles away from home, his head was full of thoughts of her.  She especially like to tell this story in earshot of my Uncle John—her husband.

So, now I have the box.  It’s dirty and tattered and it no longer plays music.  But, I love it.  For now, it’s wrapped in plastic and placed on a shelf in the furnace room in the basement.  I envision a day soon when I’ll have it restored and it’ll sit on my dresser.

Writing this blog post has reminded me of how much I’ve been shaped by the characters of my childhood. If it’s true that we can never go home again, perhaps it’s also true that we simply take home with us wherever we go.

By the way, my mom is now the owner of a 1980’s era full length mink coat.  Did I mention?  She’s a bit of a mess too.

I think I just found meaning in cleaning out my basement.

The Desk Sold, It Just Took a Little Vision

A quick update on my last post:  I sold the desk.

Three days ago, an email appeared in my inbox with the title, “Child’s Desk” and containing the simple inquiry, “Hello, is your child’s desk still available?”

Hell. Yeah.

Without much fanfare, Krystle (the sender of the email) and her lovely family (husband and two cute-as-pie daughters) came by to pick it up on Sunday.

As soon as Krystle opened her mouth, I knew that the desk had found its new owner.  “I looooove your house,” she said with a sincerity that had me at hello.

She raved over the desk with the same level of enthusiasm.  But again, with such genuineness, that I briefly wondered if, in fact, I should be keeping this little gem for myself.

When I asked whether her daughter was excited to be getting a desk of her own, she replied, “Oh, this isn’t for my daughter.  It’s for me.  I’m gonna use it as a vanity.”

“Huh, really?”  I was a little dumbfounded.  “Why hadn’t I thought of that?”

In all honesty, prior to my little find-meaning-in-basement-cleaning project, I might’ve been just a touch jealous that I lacked Krystle’s vision.

Okay, I was jealous.  But, I also appreciated that she could see beyond the limitations that I’d placed on the desk to recognize the other possibilities that existed for it.

So, maybe “vision” (something that our society talks a lot about) isn’t just some lofty concept.  Or, a gift bestowed on a select few.

Instead, maybe it’s living in such a way that you always see the possibilities, whether it’s while skimming Craigslist or participating in UN Peace Talks.

I think I just found meaning in cleaning out my basement.

Getting Past the Desk

Photo from the Craigslist post for this desk.

Photo from the Craigslist post for this desk.

Today is Wednesday, June 12th and it’s a significant day for a couple of reasons. The first baseball game ever played in America was played today in 1839.  On today, in 1989, Ronald Reagan made his famous, “Tear down this wall” declaration.  And today just so happens to be my kid sister’s birthday. Today is also significant because it marks the twelfth day past my basement cleaning deadline and to that, I can only say, “The best laid plans of mice and men go often awry.”

My basement cleaning efforts have stalled.  Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of a massive flurry of end-of-the-school-year activities.  Fingers might also point at certain family members, who shall remain nameless, and their lack of enthusiasm for organizing their dusty and grimy tools and sports equipment (no judgement, just facts).    But in all honesty, the one thing, more than any other, that has caused this grinding halt is a little white, French provincial style desk from Target.

This desk has been in our house for about 5 years.  For most of that time, it lived happily in my daughter’s room.  But, with the advent of middle school, the “baby” desk was branded as inadequate and banished to the utility room with all the other larger scale cast-offs.

The poor desk was caught in a no-win situation—it was too small to be functional, too large to be easily stored.  So despite my sympathies, practicality won out.  The desk had to go.

My hard line approach notwithstanding, I felt that the piece of furniture had a lot of life and perhaps even a little value left in it.  So, I thought I’d try moving beyond my KEEP TRASH DONATE model and give Craigslist a try.

Online selling is not foreign territory for me.  I’ve sold dozens of things through Cragislist. You take a picture, write a description, post it, and voila your cast-off becomes someone else’s commodity.

So, I posted the desk for $25 describing it this way:  Lovely child’s desk is white with French provincial details and four drawers. Has custom made glass topper to protect desktop. Has a few dings and scratches, but is in overall good shape. It is 36″ wide x 29″ high.

I sat back, self-satisfied, assured that my post would soon bring to me the person who would free me of this desk.

A couple of days went by. Nothing.

Eventually, I did get an inquiry from a lady who even came by to take a look.  Upon showing it to her, she snapped in an annoyed tone, “It’s a kid’s desk.”  To which I, in an even more annoyed tone, responded, “Yes. Just. Like. The. Ad. Said.”

I don’t think I would’ve sold it to her even if she’d wanted it.

The listing expired.  I re-posted it.

Still, nothing.

I was irked.  “What was wrong with my ad?”  “What was wrong with my desk?”  “Maybe people are just too crass nowadays to appreciate such a lovely little desk.”

I was more and more peeved every time I walked past the desk.  I stopped walking past the desk.  I stopped going in the utility room.

The writer Donna Lynn Hope once wrote, “Sensitivity has its own cross to bear.”

I don’t think I’ll renew the Craigslist post a second time, not right now.  I think, instead, I’ll move the desk into the de-cluttered and more spacious furnace room.

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with the desk or my ad.  I suspect that people appreciate little white desks from Target as much today as they ever have.  But, really what does it matter?

What matters is brushing off too easily bruised feelings and sticking to the task at hand.

I think I just found meaning in cleaning out my basement.

Can You Hear Me Now?

one to use 2

Those darn headphones!

For the past couple of weeks, the weather has been unseasonably cool.  But today, summer is in full effect.  By mid-morning it was a humid 80 degrees.  Of course, this is the day that we chose to move our basement cleaning outside.

By “we,” I mean my 14-year-old son and I. And by “outside,” I mean the muddy, debris-filled area underneath the deck.  Our basement is a walkout and this is the area you walk out to.

By 8 am I’ve already put Kiddo (not his real name) on alert.  “You’ll be helping me in the basement today.”  I yell out, assuming that he’s within earshot.  No response.

I grab a breakfast bar, refill a liquid soap dispenser, take out some trash. “I think we should clean under the deck this morning.”  Again, yelling out to the unseen.  No response.

I take 10 minutes or so to answer an email.  I make my way back downstairs, yelling all the while. “I’m gonna need your help in the basement this morning.”  Nothing.

But I smell butter and hear thumping.

I find Kiddo in the kitchen wearing his gigantic, overpriced, red headphones, weirdly hopping from foot to foot (in time with the music blaring in his ear, I’ll admit) while holding a spatula.  “I’m making some breakfast,” he proudly announces, never missing a step.

The look on my face tells him to take the headphones off.

I say it again:  “You’re helping me clean the basement today.”  He’s about to protest, but he catches himself. “Okay, but can we go to the Verizon store?”

I love this kid, but he’s a bit like an eyeball without a cornea—not very focused.

Our task for the morning is to remove broken cement and pieces of a discarded retainer wall from underneath the deck.  The bikes in the catchall utility room with be moved to this outdoor space once my husband makes a bike rack (somehow I’m sure that’ll figure in an upcoming post).  But, first Kiddo and I need to clear out the space.

I get started filling up recycling bins with debris.  Kiddo joins me in a bit, after first finishing his breakfast, of course.

Bounding out behind him is our cat.

“Go put his harness on,” I say immediately.  The cat is for all intents and purposes a house cat, but we do occasionally let him outside with his harness on.  This time Kiddo follows through on his protest.  “You know he hates that thing.  He’ll be okay.  I’ll keep an eye on him.”

I’m hot and already tired, so I relent.

We make pretty good progress, filling up two recycling bins and the floor of my car’s trunk with debris.  Despite Kiddo’s penchant for dancing while working (it’s sorta surreal, like he’s in a 1940’s musical) and having to yell at the top of my lungs to relay the simplest instruction to him (those darn headphones!), we manage to get a lot done.

We’re gonna take all of this junk to the Rockville dump, but I suggest that we take a water break first.  As I head into the house, I yell some more and make hand motions indicating that Kiddo should bring the cat into the house.

A couple of minutes later, Kiddo comes inside wearing the kind of uncomfortable grin that every parent dreads. “The cat’s under the shed.”

The last time the cat decided to take refuge under the storage shed, all four members of our family could be found in the cold and the dark, on hands and knees, dangling pieces of smoked turkey to try to coax him out.  Never again.

What’s the saying?  “Never say never.”

“Well, you better go get him out,” I say wagging my finger and rolling my neck—I want him to know that I mean business.

A few minutes later, through the window, I spy Kiddo flat on the ground shaking a rake under the shed.  He goes from one side of the tiny structure to the other.  If I weren’t in such a hurry to get to the dump, this would all actually be kinda funny.

Suffice it to say, I have to get involved in this ridiculousness.  After instituting a tag team approach and pretty much encircling the shed with Feline Greenies Oven Roasted Chicken Flavor treats, the cat comes out.

Finally, we head to the dump.  The car ride pretty much goes like this:

  • Kiddo complains about having to listen to NPR morning talk shows on the radio.
  • I complain about having to listen to music with every third word bleeped out.
  • Kiddo tells me that he heard on the “news” that a woman flushed her baby down the toilet and the police found it alive in the plumbing.
  • I ask where on earth Kiddo heard such a story.
  • Kiddo tells me that he gets most of his news from the Phillip DeFranco Show on YouTube.  I looked this show up when we got back home.  One of the headlines read: Justin Bieber Chased by Giant Black Man. I made a mental note to remind Kiddo that we have a subscription to the Washington Post.
  • Kiddo asks if we can stop at Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Verizon store, another McDonald’s.

We unloaded our trash at the dump and believe it or not, by 11:30 am we were back at home.  Somehow, I was more exhausted than I’d ever been during any of my much longer days of solo basement cleaning. But today, I have to admit, there was never a dull moment.

Exhaustion mixed with humor, bewilderment, yelling, and love.   Isn’t that parenting in a nutshell?

I think I just found meaning in cleaning out my basement.

Kiddo trying to get the cat.

Kiddo trying to get the cat out.

The Dump and the Village

Is the character of a room defined by its largest major appliance?

The furnace room is all cozy with its hot water heater and, duh, the furnace.  But, the catchall utility room—this place has a different vibe, completely.  The refrigerator-freezer dominates with its loud, icy hum.  I know you’re thinking:   “Vacuum cleaners, washing machines, even dishwashers, but a noisy refrigerator?”  Yep.  Surely it’s due to its advanced age.  No Energy Star rating here.  But we love the fridge anyway (see my last post).

The differences between the two rooms extend beyond just atmosphere.  I’ve realized that they each require a different approach to organization. I pretty much unilaterally made decisions about the contents of the furnace room—what would stay, what would go.  But the catchall room contains lots of tools, sports equipment, and other stuff that is in use by family members other than me, so a more collaborative organizing effort is called for.  Ugh.

Surveying the catchall room yesterday morning, I knew that I’d need the hubby and kids to finish whipping the room into shape.  There are just too many things that I suspect have great value to them that look like TRASH or DONATE to me.  I don’t want to encounter the wrath of a husband whose NFL beer cozy was accidentally thrown away.  Still, my inner Type A feels a twinge of annoyance at needing to rely on someone else to finish up this job.  Double ugh!

Donnie, to the left. James, to the right.

Donnie, to the left. James, to the right.

So, maybe it was the voice of Anne Lamott (I’ve been re-reading her “Help Thanks Wow”) or perhaps it was the refrigerator again.  Anyhow, it came to my attention that, really, others have been involved in this work the whole time.  I just haven’t stopped to recognize it.

Cleaning out the basement would be an impossible task without the Montgomery County Processing and Recycling Facility (aka the Rockville dump) and Value Village.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been to both places numerous times to either throw things away or make donations.

Undoubtedly, we’re all familiar with those people and places that give us pause:  the DMV, auto mechanics, the post office.  We’re tentative about them because we’re never quite sure that the interaction is going to be a good one.

That’s never been the case with the dump or the Village.  I’ve boldly crammed garbage bags and filled boxes, confident in the knowledge that my trash and donations will be welcomed by James and Miguel.

James works for Covanta, the company that runs the county’s Processing and Recycling Facility.  I usually go to the dump in the early afternoon and he’s always there, ready to help unload my packed car.

Miguel works for Value Village at the Donation Center that’s closest to my house.  There’s a buzzer by the Donation Center door, but I’ve never needed to use it.  Miguel or one of his co-workers is always outside, ready to lend a hand by the time I’ve popped my trunk.

I know these guys are just doing their jobs. But they’re really nice about it, and we all know that they don’t have to be (e.g. the DMV, auto mechanics, the post office).

James is nothing but patient when I bring stuff to the trash section that belongs elsewhere—just in case you didn’t know, paint is a hazardous waste that doesn’t go in general trash.

And Miguel, ever-enduring Miguel, didn’t hesitate to sort through a mound of donations when one day I accidentally contributed something that was a KEEP and I came back looking for it.  He found it, by the way.



They’re full of funny stories that they tell like only someone with firsthand knowledge can.  Would you believe that somebody actually brought a casket to the dump or that some guy once donated a dirty (Miguel’s emphasis) toilet to Value Village?  Yep, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

They’re also in a unique position to be pretty circumspect about the nature of  the abundance of “things” in our lives.  James once commented to me that he never ceases to be amazed at what people throw away and how much of it could be re-used.  Hmmmm.

These gentlemen have consistently taken the time to help, guide, re-direct, gently challenge and just chat with me–always with a smile, without any hint of annoyance or impatience.   I could learn a lot from these guys.

I think I just found meaning in cleaning out my basement.

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