Tag Archives: the man

still climbing the hill

All details rendered below might be slightly off due to the age of the writer and her sometimes tenuous grasp on the act of recall.


I grew up in a small town, with limited retail options. There wasn’t a Walmart there until I was almost gone. If you needed a new school outfit then you went to this little shop named Sycamore where you tried to find an outfit that had that most elusive quality – simultaneously unique and indistinguishable from everyone else’s clothes. If you needed to rent a movie then you went to the hardware store – its name is escaping me at the moment.  This hardware store had everything – including a section devoted to kids’ bikes. The bikes were hanging from thick chains and hooks from the ceiling, suspended far above the more practical everyday items, and beyond any sort of reasonable child-touching distance. A retail store these days would never employ those tactics. The more little hands that touch it, the better chance some big hands will hand over money for it. But there was something so positively delightful about those out-of-touch, out-of reach bicycles up there. We were content to just stand there and stare, while our parents bought things like fertilizer and batteries. They eventually carved out a corner of the shop and added some narrow strip shelves to the wall to hold VCR tapes. We learned quickly to focus our attention on the correct half of the display, selecting Betamax flicks over VHS. If you were invited to a birthday party, and you happened to be a girl between the ages of, say, five and fourteen, then you went to the Hallmark store right next to the hardware store and selected a birthday present for the lucky girl. There were years when girls opened up a dozen packages full of miniature smurfs, and years when they opened up new puffy sticker books and Lisa Frank sticker packs. There was the year of the little click beads – tiny letters and objects that clicked into larger items like purple plastic heart shaped treasure boxes and pink plastic bracelets. You would carefully select the right number of letters – to spell a name, or initials, or clever words like LOVE or UNICORN, and you’d get your gift wrapped at the counter in the same paper that all the other girls’ presents were wrapped in. 

I could tell you that I was born and grew up in the time period between Smurf figurines and Trapper Keepers, owning one of the first Cabbage Patch Kids on the shelf but not a single Beanie Baby, and that every middle school slumber party included the obligatory screening of “Dirty Dancing” and you would know exactly how old I am.

I can remember the details of that Hallmark store more clearly than any other store from my childhood. I haven’t been in a Hallmark store in ages, but I’m imagining that it looks both the same and different. I remember where each section of greeting cards / trinkets / gift wrap were located. Some sections were there year round, some were seasonal. There was a big section for birthdays, for weddings, for anniversaries and new babies. The sympathy card section never moved. I remember shopping for graduation cards each May, and looking at the annual Christmas ornament display in late November. My best friend had a Christmas tree with entire collections of Hallmark ornaments which felt both extravagant and over-coordinated to me. I’m fairly certain the seasonal sections were pretty focused on Christian holidays and celebrations – I suppose Jewish families (if there were any in our town) shopped elsewhere for their greeting card needs. Heck, I only knew one Lutheran and no Catholics, so there probably wasn’t a First Communion section either.

Hallmark always had this overtone of pastel-ness in it. There was music playing from a speaker somewhere, and the floors were carpeted and quiet. It was sort of like a library – people standing in front of shelves, slowly picking up cards to read, and then return. You could orient yourself fairly easily to where you wanted to go from a quick front door scan of the long, narrow space – pink-and-blue-baby, hot-pink-and-purple-girls, satin-white-and-ivory-wedding. The sore thumb that always stuck out in the store was the Over the Hill section – predominantly black, and full of cards with questionable humor, and far more party supplies than the other sections. This was pre-Internet-pre-Pinterest era, where every single little life occasion was not celebrated in full-blown party style. Birthday parties were the most common form of crepe paper streamer and latex balloon festooned events. If you judged the importance of various milestone birthdays by the linear foot devoted space in Hallmark you’d be right to assume that forty was the most significant, far outweighing the sweet sixteen, the first birthday, the golden fifty or the non-existent twenty-first in this bible-belt border town. I can remember attending fortieth birthday parties that were hosted in the fellowship hall of our church, the lucky celebrant pushed over to the cake in a borrowed wheelchair. The balloons were black, the streamers were black, and sometimes the icing was black (blech) which always stained your mouth and lips an eerie purple. The imagery of a roller coaster plunging you headlong into death was rendered in cartoon bubbles across half the cards.  The other half of the cards had Far Side cartoons.

I’ve often marveled at the differences between then and now, particularly when it comes to age. When my parents and their friends started celebrating forty, well, they seemed so old. Old enough to have children graduating and going off to college, old enough to laugh at black-icing cakes and packages of Depends and Metamucil on the gift table. And now we meet forty with babies and toddlers (or no kids at all) and we would slap anyone that even tried to wheel us up to a cake that suggests it’s all down here from this point. There are still huge hills to climb, and we’re in better shape than we were ten years ago, smarter and hipper and more self-assured as well. We aren’t anticipating a decline in anything in the near or distant future, not while we’re still juggling crazy schedules and writing day care checks and working on the house and flying down roller coasters of our own choosing, not the cartoon variety on Hallmark cards.

M turned forty yesterday, and I can’t really speak to his own personal feelings about this particular milestone. But it feels a bit like a shared milestone to me, as he straddles the side of another decade that I haven’t quite reached. He didn’t get any Over the Hill cards last week, but most of the cards did subtly reference age that he shrugged off as insignificant. We celebrated Saturday by hanging out all day and evening together with the girls.  We ate out at good restaurants and rode water slides for the hours in between. Sunday was a low key day at home, capped off with a birthday dinner that might have been like any other dinner, minus the gigantic dessert in the middle of the table. The girls bickered, as usual, and E picked at everything green on her plate. There was a brief moment when I looked at the table and the counter top and sink full of dishes and the overtired girls and wished M and I had taken the party elsewhere, a fancy restaurant, adult conversation.

But this is forty, this is where we are now. And it’s okay, in fact, it’s really good. I loved that twenty-five year old guy. A lot.  But I’ll take the forty year old one, hands down. 

how does he do it?

Someone asked me today what my husband’s background is – as in, where did he learn how to do all this stuff that he does?  That seemed like an interesting jumping off point, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you a little more about him by creating my own question and answer session with myself.  I agree that it’s a little dorky, but it’s the format that works best for me when it’s past 10:30 on a Monday night.  So here goes.

Where did you meet your husband?
M and I met in graduate school – studying architecture.  He was actually working towards two Masters degrees, the other one is in Construction Management.  We only overlapped in school one semester – my first, his last.  We were in the same studio, and hit it off as great friends.  He moved to a far away city (Minneapolis) to intern as a requirement for his CM degree, and we continued to chat on the phone (pre-cell phone / unlimited long distance days) and so we tried our best to save our pennies by writing letters.  Real letters.  I have an enormous stack of letters he wrote; one in particular was the reason I married him.  (It also happens to be the first one he wrote me.)  Eventually he moved back to this city where we first met, and we never left.

Where did he learn how to do everything that he does around the house? 
I think it’s probably a combination of several things.  I’m sure he inherited some of his mechanical nature – he’s no stranger to how things work or how to fix things when they don’t.  He also worked some summer jobs during school in construction – which meant a lot more hard labor than fine tuning a skill set – but still, he knows his way around tools.  He’s obviously had some exposure through school as well – with advanced degrees in architecture and engineering, plus he always held down a part time job in the architecture school’s workshop.  He’s artistic and organized and more than a tiny bit particular about things, and he’s naturally geared towards thinking through the process of building and constructing.
But I think the real reason he’s been able to do the things that he’s done on this house (just about everything) is that he just does it.  He reads up on it, he sketches things out, he makes lists, sometimes he draws it up on the computer, he borrows or rents or buys the right tools for the job, and then he does it.  If it doesn’t work the first time, then he does it again, and never repeats the same mistake.  

How old is he?
He’d probably prefer that I not say, but I will mention that he’s approaching a certain milestone this year.  You can count the candles on the cake this August.

How tall is he?
Very.  Six-and-a-half feet tall.  So the super tall ceilings in our house are perfect.  He has a tremendous wing span, which means he can stand on a regular chair and reach almost everything.  It’s really handy, because I’m exactly one foot shorter.  He’s also very strong and actually lifted our new couch out of the truck by himself and got it to the bottom of the entry stairs on his own.  This is also really handy, but I think sometimes he forgets that I’m so very, very not strong and I end up dropping my end of the couch on my face on the stairs.

What is the most amazing thing he’s done related to the epic house project?
This is a hard one.  The front mansard restoration is a hard one to top.  I never get tired of looking at those photos.  F’s room recap is coming up too – and that’s another massive construction project.  But even the smaller rooms, like the laundry room – when I think back to the changes we made in there – all the plumbing and wiring and cabinet re-building etc. I’m just amazed that he did it all himself.  We didn’t even think about calling anyone in to do it.  It’s like it doesn’t cross our minds anymore.  (The new roof and tuckpointing this fall were entirely different animals, of course.  We have our limits – and our day jobs.)

What was the lowest moment?

Maybe he’ll drop a comment and identify his personal low moment on the house.  If I had to pick one I’d say it was the Sunday night when he just refused to stop working up in the attic.  It was so late, and we had been working all weekend long, and he was prying up the nasty old floor boards so that he could install a new subfloor.  He had worked himself back into the corner of E’s room, right above our bedroom.  He was balancing on the now-exposed floor joists, pulling up the last piece and he slipped and his giant work boot came crashing through the ceiling below.  There’s nothing worse than cleaning up dust and insulation and nasty attic crap from your bedroom just a few short hours before it’s time to start the work week again.  I was just glad he didn’t come through the ceiling.

Does your husband read your blog?
Yes, everyday.  He’s my number one fan.  And he occasionally reminds me (like yesterday when I was lamenting the fact that my bathroom floors were such a mess) that he had actually cleaned them while I was at work on a Sunday.  I often get into the office in the morning and sit down at my computer and the first email I read is from him and sounds something like this:  
Hi – hope the morning went well with the girls.  They looked so cute, crashed out in their beds before I left.  We’re going to run by the grocery and get some more milk after I pick up E from Acting Club.  I think you meant “than” instead of “then” in your post today.  Have a great day.  Love, M
And right there, he’s got me.  Greeting / moment of reflection on how much we love our girls / an errand he’s going to run that I don’t have to / pointing out typos because he knows I hate them so.  I quickly log in to make the change.  Nothing worse than a then/than slip up.  Except maybe a to/too slip up.  Ugh, the worst.

Any final thoughts?

I’m his number one fan too.

pins out

The doctor is removing the pins from M’s hand today (they stick out like a voodoo doll).  The girls decided to sign his cast over the weekend.  We made them stick to names only, which is good.  If they had stated drawing people, the whole voodoo thing might have started to get a little too real.