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My website

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Creating with words or boxes

Q. When is it especially fun to write a blog?    

 A. When you get email like this one I received last week:

 Gail, I was surfing in a waiting room today and ran across your blog.  I pretty much spent the last three hours reading your different posts and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your writing.  It's hard to describe, but I just felt a lot of peace reading through the different pieces you compiled.  I know we haven't spoken in years -- I'm sure you remember me; I am an executive recruiter and was a friend of your neighbor Mark.

My life has slowed down a little and it felt good to take the time to enjoy all your thoughtful writings.

I hope you and Mike are in good health. I live on five wooded acres near Holy Hill and have a huge garden ... keeps me busy since the economy kinda stinks right now.

I subscribed to your blog.  Thank you for putting your writings out there!  I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Kate D.

I haven’t seen Kate in almost 30 years. I received her letter through my website. I think I can live off her words for a year.

I’m 69 years old, retired after a lifetime of teaching and writing for the public. But I still think of myself as a writer. For me, writing is more than an occupation; it’s a passion. If I’m not writing, I’m not myself. When I’m writing, I’m doing hard work that is thrilling and rewarding in itself. Recognition like the letter from Kate is unexpected frosting.

Before a couple of months ago, I was writing every day and feeling exhilarated. The COVID-19 lockdown had emptied my calendar and I was working not only on blog posts but also on journal entries to submit to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s COVID-19 journal project.

So why haven’t I written a darn thing for a couple of months?

The answer is simple. I’ve been distracted by different work that is thrilling and rewarding in itself: re-creating a home.

This is how my new project evolved. . . . During the summer of 2016, my daughter Anna and her son Max moved into the home I share with my husband, Mike. Last month, after nearly four years, they moved out. Well, they didn’t exactly move out; they moved over. Anna bought a house across the street.

It was the oddest move I’ve ever seen. Thanks to COVID, there was no one big moving event with a passel of friends, packed vans, beer and pizza. Instead, day after day in the evening after work, Anna carted boxes across the street in a coaster wagon or walked with belongings piled in in her arms.

To complicate matters, Anna is combining households with her boyfriend, Steve. He had a house to empty and packed his vehicle for many, many trips. They got to a stopping point because certain chores had to be completed before they could stuff more inside their new dwelling. At that point, their focus became painting and repair rather than schlepping.

That meant there was still a mountain of orphan boxes in my basement, a basement I was eager to reclaim. So, about a month ago, my life took on a passion far different from writing: clearing out the crowded old and making way for an emptier new.

Mike and I loved having Anna and Max here. But during their stay, I learned something about myself that I never knew: I am a minimalist. My style of minimalism doesn’t mean my house is bare; it means that my rooms have bare horizontal surfaces and you’ll find some sparsely-settled cupboards and closets.

When Anna and Max lived with us, we combined two complete households into one three-bedroom ranch. Anna’s domain included all the equipment needed to raise a child from newborn to age three and a half. That’s a lot of stuff. Plus, Anna is an avid cook, so our kitchen cupboards and fridge became crammed with foods unfamiliar to me: hot hot Mexican and Thai sauces, a variety of gourmet vinegars and olive oils, labels with exotic-sounding names like Thai peanut Satay, chili garlic sauce, Sriracha and Hoisin.

The project to go from full to spare was hard work, but I felt elated the whole time I carted boxes out of the basement and food containers out of my pantry.  The first step was to load our garage. This effort was like playing a giant game of “Jenga,” where you carefully remove pieces from a tower of long wooden blocks. 
But instead of removing things, I was assembling a tower – packing boxes and baskets tightly. For one work week, Mike and I dragged things from the basement to the garage every morning before he left for the office. Lugging stuff replaced our usual early morning walk or bike ride. I looked at it as simply another form of exercise, one we sorely needed.

Did I say “sorely”? Um, yep, we both got sore after a few days. Legs, mostly. I swear my legs have hardened up in the process, but dang. Plodding up those steps, I flashed back on learning about muscle fatigue in biology class and I swear that sometimes I could feel the lactic acid leaving my body. However, there was consolation: every box leaving the basement gave me a feeling like a satisfying sneeze after being congested.

After half of our garage was Jenga-d, it was time for transport across the street. I decided to forsake the coaster wagon and pull out the big guns: my car. At this point, Mike had to work long days finishing the 2020 tax season, whose filing deadline had been extended by COVID-19 to July 15th. I was on my own. It took four carloads to empty most of my garage into Anna’s. My “sneezes” got more and more satisfying.

Anna now has a properly Jenga-d half-garage, and I can pull my car inside my garage – a blessing on 90-degree days. The remaining boxes can wait clustered around my lawn mower until she and Steve complete their painting and repairs.

The next step was to re-organize the basement. I re-fashioned a bunkhouse for my grandsons to stay overnight. Our old bunkhouse had disappeared while Anna and Max lived here, and the new one is even better. Making the bunkhouse, I think, was my adult version of making a fort when I was a kid. (See the photo at the start of this post.) After finishing the bunkhouse, I moved the grandkids’ play area so our rec room has become larger. It’ll be fun, once the lockdown is over, to invite my fellow choir members for a glass of wine after rehearsals.

I am elated. I feel like I have a brand-new house, with all the creativity that entails, but without all the chaos of moving. I’m just about done with my back-to-minimalism project, which means I’ve made room in my life to get back to writing my blog. Re-creating my home was luscious, but writing is always more luscious.

Thanks to my friend Kate, this blog is getting attention sooner than later. I’ve tried to reach her by email and phone, with no luck. I’m hoping she’ll see this and we can catch up on three decades of life.

Max assembled his super hero costume today.
Lucky me to see him every day!!

Gail Grenier is the author of Dog Woman, Dessert First, Calling All Horses, Don't Worry Baby, and Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee, all available on Book sales benefit local charities.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Gail!
    I’ve been thinking of you. Glad to hear all is well with your family. I love the post on minimalism. Going from a three bedroom ranch to an 800 square foot rental I reduced what I owned by more than half. What a great feeling!
    Hope to actually see you again once the world gets back to “normal”.
    Take care, Eileen