A First Dark Day

Note the contrasting flooring. The stairs are original and the landing is new. This was from my recon trip yesterday.

The report from the trades on trades day was fine. Of course, we found yet another thing that needed to be done that was outside of the initial scope.

There’s no question that we need a new front door. The report included an option to use the entire width of the door opening. The original door was a big one and it would be so sexy to power-up to the authentic entryway.

The Spouse was providing the report, since he was there.

They had discussions about electrical boxes and radiant heat underneath the tiled spaces. There was some confusion over my second story cork floor requirement. Somebody got a crazed idea that I wanted carpet upstairs. Nope. Nope. Nope. I truly hate carpeting. I liked cork for the warmth and soundproofing of carpet in a renewable and easy-to-sweep-dog-hair-out-of-corners form.

The floor guy was less sanguine about the main floor wood. The beat up planks that mean a lot to me. The ones that I love. The Spouse’s report included words about a lack of sub flooring, about the grooves getting untongued or something, noise about exposed nailheads and a few holes that were shortcuts to the basement. The Spouse also noted that our project manager was very worried about how I would react, since the floors needed to be replaced and he remembered my resolve that that wasn’t going to happen.

And I’m like, “Nope. Not happening. I am keeping the floor.” This was not a great part of the report. Nobody [that would be The Spouse since it was only the two of us in this discussion] said I was being stubborn or ridiculous, but I felt that those concepts were just barely stopped at the back of someone’s tongue.

I was feeling like The Spouse was always taking the side of the mens. Some kind of he-man club. That I was being patted on my little emotional head and was out of my element. Even though I am the logical one in our equation. I’m the one who pushes emotions aside to solve an issue. And this is an issue that I am sure can be resolved with engineering and tools and ingenuity.

That said, it’s true that maintaining the soul of the house, respecting and honoring the bones of this structure is my top requirement for this remodel. Number one. I wrote it down first, before new kitchen or second bathroom.

It was why I was [secretly] putting off this project. I’ve been worried that I might not make the right calls for the house. The house has embraced us and our madness. It’s known families before ours, too. It’s been the keeper of our secrets. The holder of our joys. The witness to our sorrows.  Our protector. We owe it our fealty. We need to protect it back, like the special vessel it is.

After a bit of tension, the report was finished with the decision hanging in the air like the smell of Elizabeth, N.J.  Next day I hit up the Google to arm myself with knowledge. I typed in searches like

  • replace or refinish old floors
  • salvaging heart pine flooring
  • stain or varnish

The links I clicked were things like Restoring Old Wood Floors to Their Former Glory or Can I Save My Hardwood Floor? or Refinish or Replace Wood Floor from Bob Vila’s Blog.

My research turned up the same types of challenges that the Spouse described–exposed nails, separated planks and balancing the volume of floor that needs to be replaced. I read time and time again, in article after post after discussion forum that old floors can last 100 years.

Gulp. Mine are 100 years old. While floors that have been well cared for could certainly last longer, it seemed that 100 years was a good run.

I was on my knees, with my hands running along the floor boards. I looked right inside those crumb filled gaps. I felt the nail heads with my fingertips. I laid my cheek on the rough floor. A surprising liquid welled in my eyes and dropped to wet the ancient surface.

Where the hell did that come from? I stood up and pushed my hair back behind my ears. I strode into the bathroom to wash my hands and found myself oddly agitated, pacing along a four foot path. What was I doing? If the floors have to go, maybe I shouldn’t even do this project.

I sat down at my 1917 built mahogany table that desperately needs to be refinished and pushed my coffee cup back and forth in front of me. I flipped the newspaper away from me and a sob escaped my throat. In the split of a second, The Beast bounded from his perch on the couch and I found his paws supporting his 85 pound body in my lap. He put his snout next to mine and lapped up the wet salt streaking my face. He wasn’t going to stop until I stopped. He really hates it when I’m sad.

I looked for solace from the floors in dining room. They hate it when I’m sad, too.


Old Pine

Some very, very, very well-worn floorboards.

“So, we’ll try to save the floorboards.”

Uh, no. Wrong answer. We will save the floorboards.

This is an old house. More than a century old. These are the original floors. And yes, they are a bit distressed. I like ’em that way.

I am not so crazy about the grooves that catch crumbs and fill up with junk when I pass the broom over them. I have discovered, though, that if I quickly and smartly sweep back and forth in the grooves, the gunk comes out. And then, if I push the rubble quickly, I can brush the detritus into the dust pan.

[Actually, moving quickly doesn’t help. The stuff still falls in the crevices. I just do it quickly because it seems like it should be more effective. Then I sweep it up and out of the cranny and move it along to the next cratered board and the next until I get to the lesser-damaged area. Thought I’d let you know that I wasn’t really fooling myself.]

The finish is shot on most of the exposed wood. The wood under the area rugs looks great. Under the radiators? Fabulous. Where we walk, where the dining room chairs slide back and forth, the hallway run where the Beast chases what’s left of his Kylo Ren doll? Pretty well unfinished. There is no fear of sliding and falling if you run through the house in stocking feet. But watch for splinters. And for the nailheads.

The morning sun streaming through the dining room window will still reflect a bit on some parts of the floor. Closer to the walls where there is less traffic for sure, but there is a gleam beneath the arch between the dining and living rooms.

While I have been derelict in my care for them, I love these old floors. They hardly creak, but a few spots do. There is a decent-sized hole in the Big Guy’s room, where we had to put a big board so that the bed leg wouldn’t fall through. The floor by the front door is a hot mess, with embedded pine needles from Christmases past stuck deep in rain and snow damaged trenches.

But I don’t want new floors. I don’t want the house to look new. Like the lines at the corners of my eyes or the gray streaks in The Spouse’s locks or the loose skin around our middles, there is no reason to erase all signs of time. A little bit of yoga, an eye cream that delivers more hope than results, a slightly shorter haircut that minimizes the amount of silver will get us through.

These floors. I don’t want them to look new. I just want them to last longer.

Women Have The Right To Vote

Voting is a right, written on the back of a strong woman

It’s only (as well as an excruciating) 92 days until the next big election. Early voting starts in Minnesota in half that time–on Friday, September 26th. There are still primaries in many states shaping up down-ballot races, including those critical local and state races that have a huge impact on people’s day to day.

At the risk of jumping in like Captain Obvious, it’s important to remember that women–you know a little bit more than half of the U.S. population–weren’t able to cast a vote in the U.S. until 1920.

So, for those 114,642,000 U.S. citizens of voting age who are women, per the Census, as you contemplate casting your ballot, contemplate what it took to gain your right to  vote.

Things You Maybe Didn’t Know About Women’s Suffrage

Worldwide, women weren’t always included in voters rolls.

  • Switzerland was the last Western republic to grant women’s suffrage in 1971. I guess their neutrality wasn’t all that neutral. Other late adopters of women’s rights to vote in Europe were Spain 1931, France 1944, Italy in 1946, and Greece in 1952.
  • Some countries were early to the table regarding women’s vote. Their idea was that people vote, and that women were people, ipso facto women voted. Crazy, no? Examples include Austria and Estonia and Poland. While these countries were not early democracies, at least when they let people vote, they included women.

Back to the U.S., there were pockets of women’s suffrage before the 19th Amendment.

  • New Jersey got it right. At first, anyway. The New Jersey constitution of 1776 enfranchised all adult inhabitants who were property owners. Laws from 1790 and 1797 referred to voters as “he or she,” and women regularly voted. But in 1807 they passed a law that took that right away from women. Why??!?
  • In December of 1869, the Wyoming Territory approved the first law in United States explicitly granting women the right to vote. Yay!
  • Another western state, Colorado, did it in 1893. This was super awesome because the change came via referendum. This means that the men in Colorado were excellent early allies and voted for their sisters, mothers, wives and friends to join them in political decision-making. The referendum passed with 55% of the vote. Double yay!!

Wanted: Constitutional Amendment for all U.S. Citizens (where ALL includes women)

  • The push for universal women’s suffrage had it’s birth in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York. Activists–primarily women–began a seven decades effort to secure the right to vote.
  • The 19th Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 and the language was modeled after the 15th Amendment. It was pretty simple.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

  • Hard to think that it was controversial, right? You’d be incorrect there. It took forty-one years to get Congress to approve the amendment and send it to the states for ratification.
  •  It was ratified by the requisite number of states one year later, with Tennessee’s ratification being the final vote needed to amend the Constitution and provide women a voice in government.
  • Here’s a scary one. Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1969-1971. Mississippi was the laggard, finally voting “Yes” in 1984. You read that right. Women could still vote, mind you. They just didn’t approve.

The Struggle Was (and is) Real

  • Suffragists adopted a “feminine” dress to appear less threatening. They frequently wore white to symbolize their purity. No reason to scare people off. I guess.
  • Women have been helping each other all along the way. Susan B. Anthony would babysit Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s children while Stanton wrote suffrage speeches and petitions for Anthony. Sisterhood teamwork!
  • Mom’s rule. The story goes that a Tennessee legislator was pressured by his mom to change his No vote to Yes. His was the last vote needed. She told him to do the right thing. That’s lobbying from the heart. Everyone, go thank your mother, just on general principle.
  • The Census estimates there’s 302,800 women in the U.S. who were born before the 19th Amendment was ratified. Bless them, one and all!
  •  Many African American women were active in the woman suffrage movement–even though they were not always welcomed by some white activists. Look up Ida B. Wells. Let me help you. Her work on women’s suffrage, and her brave anti-lynching activism, made her a hero to social justice. And white women need to take heed of sisters of color, they are there fighting the good fight on many fronts!

Folks, and especially women, who think that voting isn’t important, just think about the women and men who helped ensure the right to vote. It was important then, and it’s still important now.

Make sure you register to vote. Then make sure your voice is heard. Cast your ballot.

Who Tells Your Story

Preface to the new edition of a history of the US written by former Princeton and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. He was a bigot, too.

I was driving back from the Italian specialty store. They have fabulous capicola and even more fabulosa salami. I bought a bottle of wine for dinner. Oddly I selected Spanish, not Italian.

I had one more stop to make before home. The “you’re almost out of gas you idiot” indicator appeared as I pulled into the parking spot at my earlier destination where I bought a bag of dog food. The Shell station was next.

As I was pulling out of the parking space, I flipped the radio station from the droning trance music. Who knew they played trance on commercial radio? I settled on the left side of the dial. I was sucked in by an intoxicating southern timbre.

A man was talking about historical preservation and public reckoning, but his story was about an old building that was being preserved. The preservation was wrong. You see, the preservationists had confused the front of the house with the back of the house. And, more importantly, they omitted any context for the structure. This was discovered and then reconciled by research that consisted of talking with the people who had actually lived there.

The historian learned that the story about the house that the museum was sharing–the history–was not just incomplete. It told a story different from the truth of the people who were there.

The history hewed to a narrative that supported the dominant culture. It supported the idea that the people who lived there were broken and weak. But the truth was that the people who lived there were strong, with tight families and decent means.

Dr. King said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So the history that we are told makes the people in our heads. It informs not only how we see the people in the past, but how we see their descendants.

It’s important (at least I think it is) to not only seek and share multiple perspectives, but also–and this is from the historian on the radio–to allow ourselves to be surprised. Surprised by what we find, what we learn and to let it challenge what we have believed and what we thought was truth.

Striving to understand people, to accept that their truths may be different, and even that their truth (or my truth, for that matter) might actually be the truth can help align what history makes us with who we actually are.

Wow. That’s a lot of thinking between the salami store and the gas station. If this symposium snippet on c-span was any indication, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place with a surfeit of surprise. I am open to it. You?

Matter Does Disappear

On today’s lunch hunt, I walked past the building I jokingly call The House That Doc Built.

I looked at the wall of glass and steel and concrete. Not gonna lie. I felt a prick of pride as my mind floated to creators, builders and fixers. Thinking about people who have a big impact and then fade away. In fiction, Harry Potter modestly worked in the bowels of a bureaucracy after setting the world free from evil. Katniss went back to the rubble of District 12 to anonymously raise a family with her co-victor.

If you look for “impact investing” and “social entrepreneurs” you’ll find names that once meant something. Scores of people who wore the green White House badges now toil away on whatever the next job is. Many still making a difference, just on a different, less sexy, stage.

Looking around the lunch place, I wonder how many of these people work in the building That Doc Built? They don’t know that the nondescript Doc eating the humana tahina salad in the corner knocked together a king-sized income stream that allows their revenue sucking programs to exist.

And I realized that sometimes things are from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Nobody remembered Luke anymore, either.