Life

When life hands your family too many challenges, coordinated prioritization helps you stay sane

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It’s been five weeks now since I moved out of my former home and into my wife’s home. Since then we’ve found ourselves unexpectedly facing a surprising number of unexpected and unwanted serious life challenges. They consume us.

We’ve kept making time to talk through each day’s events and figure out our priorities. And that’s key, because we don’t always agree on those priorities at first. One of mine is to get our house in order. We are blending two complete households and have stuff piled everywhere while we sort it. I hate clutter! Living with it really makes me nuts.

If I could, I’d make sorting the house our first priority. But Margaret needs us to resolve other pressing matters first. So we worked it out. Getting the house in order is still on the priority list, but it is at the bottom while we push through these other challenges. We both are moving forward with the house when we can, as best we can. In these five weeks we’ve made respectable progress, all things considered. But we’re also pushing powerfully through the other challenges.

Blogging has cleared my personal priority bar, albeit at reduced capacity. You’ve noticed, I’m sure, that I’ve posted some reruns, and that new articles are pretty fluffy. But sitting down to write is a pleasure and a wonderful distraction. I’d be ill served to give it up entirely.

Photography, however, does not currently clear the bar. When I moved I had a half-shot roll of expired Konica Chrome Centuria 200 slide film in my Spotmatic. I did finally finish it and send it for processing. The scans are back, and they’re all badly underexposed, so now I’m looking for time to see if I can make them usable in Photoshop. And I’ve been playing with some manual-focus lenses on a DSLR when I have five or ten minutes to spare. So I’ll have images to share soon. But otherwise, I’m not really taking pictures right now.

We are pushing through our challenges. They will end. And then we will get our house in order, and I’m sure time and energy for photography and more serious blogging will return.

I can share the photos I took as I walked through my old house for the last time. Because Margaret and I had two completely furnished homes, we each got rid of some of our furniture. This was surprisingly easy. In the wake of our divorces we had both accepted unwanted furniture from family and friends. I like to joke that we both decorated our homes in “early post divorce.” Neither of us were attached to very much of the stuff. And then I got a giant break when the young woman who bought my house offered to buy any furniture I wanted to leave behind. For saving me the hassle of having to donate it all, I just gave it to her! So here are the photos of my final walkthrough, with everything I left behind still in place.

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Life, Stories Told

Requiem for a Toyota

Have you ever become irrationally attached to something you owned?

Replacement Matrix

I bought this 2003 Toyota Matrix in 2009 after wrecking my previous car, also a Matrix, on vacation with my sons. My first Matrix had been the base model, but this one was the top-of-the-line XRS with its peppier engine. She’s a blast to drive. I made this photo the day I brought her home from the dealership. Doesn’t she look good?

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But after eight years she has rolled over 185,000 hard miles. It’s shocking how badly the paint has worn on this car — it has faded heavily on every horizontal surface, and has chipped off a large portion of the hood. The front ground effects broke off in a mishap, but by then the paint was already in bad shape. I spent the reimbursement check on other things. Her body is scuffed and dented from other minor mishaps, including a low-speed rear-end accident and that time I broke the side mirror while backing out of my garage. Truly, she looks awful.

Systems are failing. I suppose the least of the failures is the windshield-washer motor, but it’s surprising how much you really need it. Yet given her age and condition I didn’t even bother finding out how much it would cost to replace. I just plunked a bottle of Windex into the center console and drove on. More seriously, she’s developed a slow oil leak. And the Check Engine light comes on from time to time to warn me of a problem with the engine’s variable valve timing system. My mechanic’s advice was clear: “Don’t fix it. Not on a car this old. Just keep her oil topped off and drive her gently. She’ll run for a long time like that.” I bought my own OBD II code scanner so I can check for that error code and shut the Check Engine light off.

Key signs your car is a beater: it looks beat up, you are choosing not to fix some of its problems, and you bought your own OBD II code scanner.

When the Check Engine light came on again recently, however, the error code pointed to catalytic-converter failure. And I’d been hearing an ominous clicking sound from the front end when I turned the wheel hard.

You know you’ve gone the distance with an old car when your mechanic calls you by a nickname. “Aw Jimmy,” he said, “I can fix these problems if you want. But it’s gonna cost you big. Two or three times more than this car is worth. You might want to stop and think about whether it makes sense.”

In the end, I let logic prevail over emotion. It’s time to let the car go.

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And I’m sad about it. I love this dumb car. I bought it because my first Matrix worked so well for my family. Even though a Matrix is small on the outside, it offers enormous interior room. I could put my two sons, the dog, and a weekend’s worth of luggage in there. We could take on any adventure we wanted in the Matrix.

Wagon Full of Sod

It has been incredibly useful for moving things. Folding down the back seat opens up a giant cavern of cargo space. I’ve moved an assembled gas grill, a dining room table and six chairs, and many loads of sod. When I recently moved into my new home I moved all my boxes in the Matrix in just a handful of trips.

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Along the way she was a great road-trip companion, prowling many old alignments with me. Here, she’s on the Lincoln Highway near Ligonier, Indiana.

Snowy day

Five years ago, as old age began creeping up on my car, I bought a used Ford Focus to be my daily driver and relegated the Matrix to backup duty. I taught my sons to drive in it and let them use it when they needed a car. I used it like a small van to haul house-project supplies home from Lowe’s. And I drove it to church, because then I drove it at least once a week. Though one especially snowy winter I shoveled her in and waited for the thaw. All together I’ve put just 20,000 miles on her since buying the Ford.

I don’t really need her anymore. I haven’t in a few years, really. But I’m sad to see her go just the same.

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Life, Road Trips

Strolling through Old Town Carmel

Our first wedding anniversary was in early July and we got away for the weekend to celebrate. We didn’t go far, just to Carmel, a small city on Indianapolis’s northern border. We stayed in a B&B for the weekend and enjoyed Carmel’s downtown.

I brought my Pentax ME along, fresh from its overhaul. We took our dinner at Muldoon’s, an Irish pub on Main Street. The Guinness is always fresh! I photographed Margaret inside as we waited for our food.

Margaret

Carmel has branded the core of its downtown as the Arts and Design District. Several art galleries dot the district, and on several summer Saturday evenings the galleries all open their doors and offer music and noshes. This was one of those Saturdays, and so we did the gallery hop. It was fun.

Carmel Arts & Design District

The best work we saw, in this little building behind the accordion player, was created by students. Some of it was quite good, and a couple pieces were astonishing.

Just a random accordion player

We walked quite a bit through Old Town. That’s what friends who have lived in Carmel have always called the area, anyway. The town began in 1837, was incorporated in 1874, and became classified as a city in 1975. But through the late 1980s the city remained small and largely sleepy. Since then Carmel has expanded dramatically, consuming giant tracts of farmland for miles around. Tall office buildings and sprawling cul-de-sac neighborhoods have been built at breakneck pace. The construction boom has not escaped Old Town.

Downtown Carmel

When you get a block or so off Main Street, you get a sense of what the town used to be. But only a sense, as Carmel has become a wealthy suburb. There are no fixer-uppers or bargain homes left in Old Town. And some older homes have been torn down in favor of new construction. Fortunately, the newer homes we encountered had style that harmonized with the older homes.

Here and there remnants of a Carmel gone by do lurk about. The Monon Railroad passed through Carmel back in the day, and its depot still stands.

Depot

The depot is a museum. We hoped for transportation exhibits, but instead it was all about Carmel high-school basketball. What an odd place to put a museum like that!

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Carmel’s government has had bold, strong leadership for more than 20 years, and they relentlessly build their vision for a winning small city. Their definition of winning differed from mine. I liked finding what was left of Carmel as it was.

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Yet we enjoyed our weekend in Carmel. As we set the challenges of our lives aside for a couple days and just soaked in being a married couple, Carmel was a wonderful place to get away. We could have driven home in 20 minutes, but we felt like we were a hundred miles away. This is the B&B we stayed in, and it clearly was a home built at least a hundred years ago. It was charming, by the way; we’d stay here again.

B&B

Margaret and I keep dreaming about where we’d like to live when we are finally empty nested, and Carmel’s Old Town had been on the list. As great as Carmel was for an anniversary getaway, it didn’t feel like home to us. So we will keep looking.

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I am astonished that at my age I’ve remarried and am about to leave my longtime home to share a life with family I never knew I would have.

When I was younger, even through my late 30s, those who had lived a half century seemed so settled to me. Their lives, I was sure, had fallen into predictable grooves. I like predictability, and those I knew who had it wore it well. I looked forward to it in my own life.

On this day half my life ago

But who knew all of the adventures of the half-century mark? Of helping children step into their adult futures. Of having fully adult relationships with our parents. Of hitting our stride in our careers. And, given that so many divorce now, remarriage and new family.

Except that these things feel like adventures only when they’re going well. Some children stumble and fall, or even fail to launch. Our parents are aging — when is it time to stop driving? To find a retirement home? And on the job sometimes you watch someone younger than some of your children, with all the life experience that implies, move up fast and pass you by, and make mistakes you learned long ago not to make.

This stuff is incredibly hard! The blessing of this age is the resilience to handle these difficulties. If I had encountered them at half this age I would have needed a rubber room.

I turn 50 today. Joys and disappointments abound. Honestly, this year there have been more disappointments than joys. My wife and I have experienced some real difficulty with children, parents, and jobs. Point is, this age teaches that this is what life is. That youthful dreams of winning at life, of being a Master of the Universe, were never within reach. That all there is every day is enjoying the good while working through the bad. That God put people into our lives to love, and our best satisfaction in life comes from loving them with all our might.

I’m gathering my whole family at my home this afternoon. We’ll grill various bits of animal flesh, nosh on fresh veggies and sweets, drink gin and tonic, and just enjoy each other. My goodness, but do we like each other. I predict I’ll reach the end of this day satisfied.

I made this photograph when I was 42, and thought even as I made it that I ought to use it on this blog when I turned 50! It seemed so far off in the future that I wondered if I’d still be blogging then. Answer to my then-self: lol yup.

Life

Half century

Who knew life at 50 could have so much going on? And some of it isn’t exactly pleasant. But one advantage of this age is the resilience to handle it.

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Life

Ten years of landscaping progress

“You ought to take photographs of your house from the yard now, while your summer flowers are in bloom,” Margaret said. “Your Realtor will probably be very happy to use them in the listing.” Sounds good. So I did it.

This is the result of a ton of landscaping work. It’s not just planting and mulching, but outright repair. Connecting my home to city sewer and then having 21 trees removed tore my yard up almost beyond recognition.

It made me think about the photos I took of the house when I toured it before placing an offer. I found them in my archive. The yard was kind of a mess, but it got far worse than this before it got better.

What a difference! With considerable help from my family, I’ve done a lot of work in this yard over the last 10 years.

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Life

Consumed with home projects

I’ve remained consumed with home-improvement projects. It’s cut deeply into my time for photography or thoughtful commentary — it’s all projects, all the time, as I prepare to put my house on the market.

I took up the worn-out carpet in the hall, crossing my fingers that the hardwood floor below would be in good enough shape to leave it be, as it was in the two other rooms where I previously took up the carpet. It wasn’t. And I neither want to refinish it myself nor pay someone to do it. Fortunately, this isn’t a high-class neighborhood and perfection isn’t required to sell a home here. So I put down rugs and moved on. Did you know you can order runners in almost any style and length from Amazon? They were here in two days.

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I have spent the bulk of my time painting. The previous owner painted every wall and ceiling a yellowy beige just before I moved in. Except for the criminally lousy job they did patching nail holes, it looked good enough and I never bothered to change it. But after a decade it was looking shabby, so I bought paint and broke out the rollers and brushes. I chose a more neutral beige, and I painted the ceilings white. This is my office, where I write this blog. It’s actually the house’s dining room, but my table is too big to fit in here so I stuck it in the eat-in portion of the kitchen, which is surprisingly spacious.

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The last room to paint was the living room. Here’s a glimpse of that yellowy beige, which I was busy covering up.

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I also painted my front stoop, as the concrete was mottled and pocked and unattractive. I filled the holes I could see with concrete patch but still missed several. Did you know you can buy paint with grit in it to provide a non-slip surface? It works great. This stoop now feels like 120-grit sandpaper.

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Finally, the faucet I put in the bathroom sink during Operation Lipstick on the Pig several years ago proved to be cheap and crappy. The finish wore off it and the metal was oxidizing. So I bought a new faucet and installed it. Removing the drain, I twisted the trap ever so slightly and it crumbled apart in my hands. I made four trips to Lowe’s before I finally got the right replacement part. Lowe’s is 15 minutes away, so a job that should have taken 15 minutes took about 2½ hours. Lesson learned: take the worn-out part along so I can match it precisely.

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One job I’m not going to get to is to replace the original 1969 aluminum storm front door. I had hoped I could pay Lowe’s or The Home Depot to install it, as hanging doors is not my forte. But they either won’t respond to my calls or are booked through the Second Coming. So I bought a jar of aluminum polish and am applying elbow grease. It’s not giving me the good results I hoped for, but the door is original to this 1969 house and is quite pitted.

A handful of smaller jobs remain, including recaulking the bathtub, washing the surprisingly dirty front gutter and soffit, and fixing a noticeable problem with the back storm door. But now the major work is over, and perhaps I’ll have a little more time to write the kinds of things I normally write around here!

 

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