Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Conception, Growth and Development of My In-House Out-House

The Conception, Growth and Development of My In-House Out-House
                A gray compact car eased up to the curb in front of my house. Two women got out and started up my walk. I had seen them drive up so I met them at the door. They seemed hesitant. A bit red-faced. One of them asked, “May we see your bathroom?”
                “Oh, of course.” I was relieved that the purpose of their visit was neither religious nor political. “Come in.” I’m used to strangers who knock on my door and ask for the bathroom tour. Generally, they follow the request with “so and so told us about it” or “we heard about it”.
                I didn’t set out to design a weird bathroom. I merely wished to solve a problem.  What I really wanted was a hot tub. In my former home I had one off my back deck, out my bedroom door. I soaked at least once every day.  But I knew when I renovated my house in Harlem adding a hot tub would be out of the question. There wasn’t an appropriate place to put one nor could I afford it. Owning a hot tub is like owning a miniature swimming pool. You pay the price.
                I shopped for restored claw-foot tubs. Too expensive. I looked at new retro claw-foot tubs. Yikes! I had another problem too. My bathroom was tiny. 1970’s tiny. Barely room to turn around.
                One day at the mall in Havre I parked way out on the eastern edge of the parking lot and skirted around the fencing and farm stuff on my way to the Big R. I walked past stacks of stock tanks, several sizes and shapes. I stopped in my tracks. I whipped out my tape measure. I had found the solution to my deep tub problem. Now all I needed to do was to make it work.
                “Billie,” I said to the man helping me with some of the odd jobs of house renovation, “Look at this stock tank I just bought? Do you think we can plumb it into the bathroom for my tub?”
                He raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Who is this ‘we’?”
                “You,” I gulped.
He nodded. “Yep, I can do it”. Billie is talented, patient and kind.
                “While we are at it, I mean while you are at it, what about turning this rustic oak dresser of mine into a sink vanity. I’d like to use the old sink and then I’d be the only woman in the world with an apple green sink. And can you fix it so I can still use the drawers?”
                As in all remodeling projects, one idea led to another. “Billie, let’s surround, I mean, could you surround the tub with cedar?” I asked. Then Billie thought we might lower the ceiling a few inches above the tub. “Yes, great idea. And let’s lower the ceiling over the dresser too,” I added. “We can put cedar wainscoting around the whole room. I’ll attach burlap above the wainscoting. And we can prop up this old ladder for a towel rack. And what do you think of this tile for the floor?”
                As the bathroom project began coming together everything looked good except for one thing. The modern white ceramic toilet looked like an onion in the petunia patch. “Hmmm,” I said and watched Billy flinch. Could we—I mean, you—surround the toilet and the tank with cedar? I’ll go get a wooden seat.” And out the door I sailed.
                The only things missing from my indoor outhouse were the moon on the door, the Sears catalog on the floor, and a wasp nest up in the corner. Jay Anderson from Turner made me a metal quarter moon. I dispensed with the other accouterments.
My new facility looks mighty authentic. Of course, the old two-holer down the path out back never had an aqua mosaic sea horse hanging above the tub, nor a gallery of western art around the other walls, nor the fresh smells of cedar and lavender, nor the pull chain flush mechanism. And when I step in the doorway I don’t have to check for rattlesnakes.
                I’m proud to show off my creation. A friend suggested,  “ Why not make your house available for tour groups? You could charge admission and make a fortune.”
 “To see the bathroom?” I asked.
                “Not just it. Your whole house is weird,” he said. “Think about it, if you made enough money you could live like normal people.”
                Why would I want to, I thought, while I threaded curtains I had made from vintage-fabric  onto plumbing pipe and popped tennis ball finials over the pipe-ends.  Normal?

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 10, 2012

I Failed My Test and Fell in Love, All in One Night

I Failed My Test and Fell in Love, All in One Night
            I am firmly in favor of denial. In fact, I recommend everybody stay in denial as long as possible. Willful ignorance is the land of bliss. But all good things must end. The end of my denial I blame on my daughter. Here’s what happened. Her doctor ordered her to take a sleep apnea test.
            “That’s interesting,” I said. “Tell me about it.” I should have kept my mouth shut.
Dee Dee described her symptoms: things like waking several times a night, dreams of suffocation, waking up gasping for breath, breathing hard, heart pounding, thinking one had a good night’s sleep yet being tired all the next day, little things like that.
“Isn’t that normal? Doesn’t everybody have nights like that? I have nights like that.”
“No, Mom, most people sleep at night. You’re like that every night, like me. I’ve been after you for years to check your sleep.”
She told me about the new CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask she wears at night. It makes her look like Darth Vader. Very sexy, she says. With the mask she sleeps all night long, does not get up even once and she wakes rested. Now, she says, “I would never give up my mask. You would have to pry it out of my cold dead fingers.”
It was the “sleep all night” part that blasted a crack in my denial and made me scoot in to see Dr. Joe. He listened to me and while I was talking, wrote out an order for me to have a sleep study test. So off I went to spend the night in a cushy bed at Northern Montana Hospital.
Tony, the sleep technician, hooked me up to twenty-three hundred sensors, each connected to a long wire hooked into some sort of machine. The sensors were attached to my body by great green globs of sticky stuff. Tony adjured me to tuck into bed, relax and go to sleep. “Oh, sleep on your back. Nighty-night.”
I never sleep on my back. I sleep on my side and flip-flop all night like a fish gasping on the shore. I lay awake in bed entertaining my last vestige of denial, “I don’t have sleep apnea, no, not me.” Then I ran a mental movie of Tony finding my body in the morning, strangled, wrapped in sensor wires.
Sometime in the night, Tony entered my bedroom with a mask, one with a long elephant-nose tube and lots of Velcro straps. As he fitted the device onto my face, he crashed through my denial with, “You definitely have apnea. Let’s try this mask. Now try to sleep. This time stay on your back.”
It was magical. I relaxed into the rhythm of the air flow. Within minutes I felt the muscles in my face soften. I awaken every morning with a tight jaw, often so tight it is painful. Goodness, I thought, my jaw muscles must have been holding vigil, keeping me alive, so to speak. I could feel every individual muscle in my body follow suit. Soon I was a relaxed blob in the middle of the bed. I loved it. I felt exhilarated. But now my mind kicked into high gear. This device could change my life. My head, which thinks it can operate completely independent of my body, began reviewing ways my life might be enhanced, physically, mentally and emotionally. We didn’t leave anything out. Neither did we sleep. The excitement was too much.
I touched the mask over my face. I caressed its lines. I lifted and shifted the coiled elephant-trunk tube. I asked the mask his name. “Alphonso,” he replied. “Will you care for me and stay with me forever?” I asked. “Forever and ever, I’ll watch over you,” Alphonso promised. I fell in love, head over heels. “I’ll be with you through thick and thin, as long as the power doesn’t go out,” he added.
Just as I began to shift into dreamland, Tony burst through the door, removed my lover from my face, unhooked the sensors and told me it was time to go take a shower. “Do you think you slept at all?” he asked. I shrugged. “You’ll have to come back. I need to record real sleep time in order to set the adjustments for your mask.”
I nearly cried. I wanted to take Alphonso home with me. Now I have to wait an entire month to see him again. Next time, with Alphonso glommed onto my face, I know I’ll sleep. Sigh.
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

May 3, 2012

Harem, Scarem or My Life in the Seraglio

Harem, Scarem or My Life in the Seraglio
                My friends, Cheryl and her husband Dave, are touring Spain and Portugal this summer. They will stay the nights in monasteries, fortresses and castles. In one stronghold, many of the bedrooms were, once upon a time, occupied by the master’s harem. Cheryl said, “I certainly am not going to sleep in one of those rooms. I want no part of a harem.”
                Personally, give me the harem room. I’ve seen the movies. I could stand to be waited on hand and foot. I can see myself lounging around the marble pool draped in a diaphanous gown, posed against a backdrop of ferns, orchids and tropical flowers. I like the idea of brawny attendants waving ostrich feather fans to cool my brow; sparkling wine and hand-dipped chocolates at my side, not a care in the world.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t for one minute believe this romantic image of the sultan’s harem as painted by Hollywood was the real thing. The harem was a place to keep women in seclusion. But it also served as a sanctuary, a refuge for the women of the household, whether wives, daughters, grandmothers or sisters.
We all remember the old cliché: a man may work from sun to sun but a woman’s work is never done. What intrigues me about a harem is the possibility for a division of labor, a way to split up and share that never ending drudgery.  Another cliché: Many hands make light work.
In my fantasy, we, the women of the harem, would work together to keep the household running smoothly. For example, tonight might be my night to cook dinner. Another member of my imaginary harem might do laundry, another take care of the children and yet another tend the garden. Perhaps tomorrow I get the garden. If I like to garden more than the others, I’ll take more of the garden days. She who enjoys the kitchen bakes the bread, bastes the roast, and burns, I mean, browns the gravy. We would seamlessly work out a schedule with everyone taking a turn, everyone getting a break, nobody stressed and overworked.
I can hear the protests. “That sounds like socialism. And your harem couldn’t be that perfect. What about jealousies? Back-biting?  Catfights? Slackers?”
             Hey, this is my fantasy and I’m creating it my way. But, alright, now that you brought it up, aren’t these difficulties part of non-harem, everyday life too? And don’t we learn to deal with them?

For me, the crowning glory of life in my make-believe harem, is that we women would have time for the arts. In the real world, arts have always been the prerogative of those with time and money. Virginia Woolf wrote that to pursue her art a woman needs a room of her own and a stipend. She wanted every woman to have the luxury of pursuing her talents, whether art or poetry or sculpture or finger painting or embroidering dish towels. For most of us who yearn for such creative moments time must be stolen from endless household duties plus the nine to five. We dream of the day when we can . . . but mostly, we don’t. We are too tired.
In the perfect world of my harem, we women would make sure that each of us got a chance to pursue our dreams, whatever they might be. I lean toward the arts. Perhaps you wish to study medicine. And she wants to repair tractors. In our harem, we would cheer one another on our way. We would provide for each other the extra oomph, the necessary push when the road ahead seems full of ruts.
On second thought, while I’m building my fantasy harem, why not include a marble pool where we can recline at ease, wafted by soothing breezes beneath a temperature controlled dome. Surround us with orchids. Bury us in blooms. Bring on the eunuchs to pamper us, cater to our every whim and indulge our every fancy. Tempt us with exotic foods, chilled wines and endless chocolates. Dreams are for free. Peel me a grape.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

April 26, 2012

My Life on the Swimming Pool Committee or You Know How Small Towns Are

     My Life on the Swimming Pool Committee or You Know How Small Towns Are
                Every city which has a swimming pool has a money-gobbling monster nightmare. The expenses, the costs of operation and maintenance, are only the tip of the iceberg of grief.  
Most of our pool staff are teens who have never held a job. They have to be trained in what it means to be an employee. They must understand that their job is to guarantee the safety of all swimmers. We never have enough lifeguards. So we scramble to schedule, reschedule, and reschedule the reschedule, often on a daily basis. In addition to learning to ignore their cell phones, music devices and boyfriends/girlfriends, the pool personnel must maintain the cleanliness of the facilities, clean and vacuum the pool, test the waters for chemical balance, count swimmers, collect and keep track of the fees. Whew, it’s a huge job for minimum wage. These people must be overseen by a tyrannical pool director plus mean city personnel.  I used to go about my day blissfully unaware that all over the country people responsible for the running of city pools gnashed their teeth and pulled out clumps of hair in frustration.
                Three years ago, still clad in ignorance, I accepted a spot on the Harlem pool committee. As a city council person I was aware that operating our municipal pool was costly. I was only vaguely aware of the other headaches. I knew the pittance we charged the children to swim did not begin to balance the expenses, nor should they. The pool is one of many ways city government serves the community. In Harlem our outdoor pool is open during the weeks of summer vacation.  Now that I am on the pool committee, each year as spring approaches, I get fidgety.
Serving on our city council has been an enlightening experience. At each monthly meeting we publicly make decisions. These public decisions garner a collection of public “yays” or “boos” from people throughout the community. The swimming pool committee, however, never hears any positive feedback. We are durned if we do and durned if we don’t and durned for everything that goes wrong, including durned afternoon thunderstorms which close the crowded pool on summer’s hottest days.
Around December, during a city council meeting, I announced that I was not interested in serving on the pool committee this year. My pronouncement was met with snickers.  Again, in February, I repeated that I would not be on the committee this summer.  Outright gut-busting laughter.  At the March meeting, Mr. Mayor and my fellow councilpersons, in unison, asked me what I was going to do this year about my pool. It has multiple leaks, needs a new liner, is in desperate need of other repairs and the boiler is on its last legs, having chugged along ten years past its prime.
“I’m not on the pool committee,” I reiterated.
“Uh, huh. Sure.” They rolled their eyes and grinned.
During the ensuing discussion about leaks and other woes, somebody, knowing the city does not have money in the budget for repairs, suggested maybe the pool would need to be shut down for a year. Maybe we could then combine the pool budget for this year with the budget for next year to do the most needed repairs. Maybe the person who made that comment was me.
You know how small towns are. The next day half the citizenry were in a panic and an uproar. “Did you hear? The City is going to close the pool. Where will our children go if they cannot go to the pool?”  In a mere twenty four hours, my suggestion, which had been ignored at the meeting, had now become gospel truth.
You know how small towns are. Within forty-eight hours an ad-hoc community group had formed to raise money to repair the pool and keep it open for the summer. One member called and asked me, as the city’s pool representative, to come to the meeting.
“I’m not on the pool committee,” I said.
“Uh huh,” she said. “We meet tomorrow at City Hall at 2:00. See you there.”
There were six of us at that first meeting. Within an hour the pool needs were prioritized, a date was set for a ham dinner followed by raffles and an auction. The group planned a variety of fundraisers to be held throughout the summer, plus a commitment to continue the good work the following year.
We just had the second meeting. I can’t believe how quickly all the plans for our first fundraiser were put into action.  The banquet will be held at the VFW Hall April 27 at 6:00. The entire community has jumped in to help. You know how small towns are!
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

April 19, 2012 

The Montana Solution to His Canadian Chain Saw Quandary

The Montana Solution to His Canadian Chain Saw Quandary
“I don’t know what to do,” said Kathy. “Richard thinks he has to have a chain saw. I keep telling him we don’t have money in the budget for a chain saw, but you know Richard. He is researching for the perfect model.”
“Are you sure he hasn’t already bought one? Did you check to see if he has one hidden in the trunk of the car? And, whatever you do, don’t take any trips without Richard.” When Kathy and I go on a trip, Richard often takes the opportunity to buy his latest coveted item, whether toy or “necessity”. He always lands an irresistible deal.
            Kathy and Richard recently moved to the country, to a 1920’s cottage on Pender Island in British Columbia. It is a real fixer-upper but it has sound bones and is well worth the work. Part of the property is an apple-orchard, part of the land is overgrown. So they alternate house renovation work with brush cutting and pruning on the “farm”.   
“I’ll search the trunk to make sure,” said Kathy, “but I don’t think he has bought it yet. He keeps talking about the comparative benefits of several brands. You know Richard. He’ll want the most expensive chain saw on the market and he’ll come up with reasons why it’s such a good buy. If we really need one, my brother John will bring his over. I’m terrified what Richard might do if he actually had a chain saw.”
            Richard is a physician, a jazz aficionado, an astute and learned man. He is well-read. He is gentle and loving. He is a wonderful listener. He is not mechanical. He is not a he-man-machine kind of guy. A chain saw in Richard’s hands could do serious damage.
“There goes the apple orchard,” I said, while visions of Richard on the loose with a chain saw ripped through my head. “Worse yet, there goes Richard’s leg.”
  The months have slipped by since our conversation. So far my friend has not bought a chain saw. However, he periodically renews the quest. I know Richard well. Eventually he will buy his chain saw.
So, when at the Annual Flea Market in Loma, I saw the chain saw display, my eyes bugged out. Immediately I thought of Richard. “Oh, this is too perfect,” I said. I was so excited that I was almost dancing.
What a fun event the Flea Market was. Vendors came from all over with an un-ending variety of stuff to enjoy, goods to buy, food to eat and all under one roof. At the same time, throughout the little town, several people held their own garage sale. It was at such a sale that I found the chain saw.
When I got home that night I phoned Kathy and Richard, “Your troubles are over, Richard. I found you THE chain saw of your dreams. I knew I had to get it, no matter the cost. It was such a great deal that I couldn’t pass it up. I’m so excited. Richard, I know you have wanted one of these since you moved to Pender Island. I will ship it to you on Monday.
Kathy said, “I’m not sure whether I am still talking with you. What were you thinking?”
I ignored her. “Richard, it is complete—you will not have to buy any accessories. And, Kathy, it is the safety features that impressed me. I have been around chain saws all my life and never have I seen one like this. It is in perfect condition. When it arrives I want photos. Oops, the time. Gotta go! Love you.”
I have been cackling up my sleeve ever since. They will probably get the package next Monday. I wish I could be a bug on their wall and see the look on their faces when they open the box. For customs I declared the five dollar value that the Montana Chain Saw cost me at the garage sale. It is a perfect replica of an ordinary hand saw’s handle from which hangs a long carved chain, the links beautifully entwined. The man carved the whole thing from a length of wood.  
When I get ready to buy my next vehicle, I am going shopping in Loma. The man who carves the “chain” saws also makes a broom with a diamond willow handle and straws of native grass. It is just my kind of vehicle--classy and easy on gasoline.
Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

April 12, 2012