Sunday, January 27, 2008

New Year's Resolution: Resolved

Two years ago when we gutted 2/3 of the ground floor of our house to build a new kitchen and living room, I had found a picture in one of those fancy home decor magazines of a mudroom set-up that I thought was THE coolest thing since indoor plumbing. I just had to have it. Had to. I tore the page out of the magazine, handed it over into the roughened, care-worn hands of my father-in-law, who has been known to work miracles with wood in the past and who, conveniently enough, would be here doing the bulk of the heavy work on the remodel anyway. I told him there was a bottle of cognac in it for him if he could make my old kitchen look like that before the summer was out.

The kids and I spent the next nearly 3 months in Salt Lake while Mister and his dad worked their asses off to build me my dream kitchen in the space which used to be the living room, and a cozy new living room in the space which used to be Boy's bedroom. I hardly dared ask what was to become of the narrow galley space which used to be my kitchen. Whenever I did, Mister was very noncommittal, "We'll see," he'd grumble, "Now how deep do you want the shelves in the pantry?"

Then I'd tell him, and he'd say, "No, no, no. That'll never do. It needs to be thus, thus, and thus."

Then I'd say, "So why did you even ask? But hey, has your dad said anything about the mudroom? Is he going to have time to do it?"

"Don't know, we'll see. Do you want 3" or 4" crown moldings?"


"I think 4."

Good times. Good times. That was the summer Missy broke her leg. That was the summer of "Where's my rain pants?"

Long story short though, by the time the kids and I had flown back into town, he'd done it. My father-in-law had taken that one crumpled little picture of the perfect mudroom, and basically built the shit out it. He owned that motherfucker. It was perfect! Marvelous! Wonderful! And the kitchen wasn't half bad either.

Sadly, that was pretty much the end of the story of the mudroom. I gushed, and preened, and danced a happy jig at the reality of it. But then I had to set to work finishing up the painting in the kitchen, finding a suitable sofa for the living room, unpacking the boxes and boxes of crap I had stored out of the way of the construction. You know how it is. What with one thing and another, it just kept getting pushed futher and further down on my list of things I wanted to tackle. So there it sat--unpainted, unfurnished, unloved--collecting dust and clutter and piles upon piles of shoes.

Until now.

It was my New Year's Resolution. My promise to Mister. Empty it. Clean it. Spackle it. Sand it. Prime it. Paint it. Hang it with hooks. And finally, use it in the manner in which it was meant to be used.

Check, check, check, check, check, and check!

It was nearly impossible to get a decent picture of the space, but hopefully you'll get an idea of how utterly ingenious it is from these few awkward angles.

I wish I had thought to take a true before shot of the chaos that reigned before I cleaned it out. Without any hooks to hang their stuff on, the kids would just chuck their coats and things in a pile. Mister and I had coats on hangers just sort of hooked over the edge of the lower shelf. Once I got everything taken out, I was amazed at how roomy and orderly it really was.
So there are six spaces, or cubbies as the kids have come to call them, three on either side. Each kid has their own little cubby and drawer for hats and gloves. The two back cubbies are for Mister and me, they're the only two with rods for hangers. The kids' cubbies have nothing but hooks. No hangers. No excuses. Get your damn coat OFF THE FLOOR!
We found the hooks at IKEA. My original idea was just a row of standard peg hooks on all three walls of each cubby. But I like these so much more. In addition to being just plain funky and fun to look at, I think it utilizes the space so much better.

The mirror I found in an abandoned corner of a local furniture store. It was filthy and covered with dust. When I asked the sales clerk if it was really for sale, she sort of blinked twice at it like where the hell did that come from? Then said, "Yes, yes. Of course. Everything here is."

"Really?" I asked, "Because it doesn't look like you're very interested in getting rid of it."

So she cleaned it up, wrapped it in bubble wrap, and gave me 30% off. It is, if you ask me, perfect. I'm ever so pleased with myself for finding it.

And now, Dear Lord, a word about the linoleum: I have a natural affinity for things which manage to be both dreadful and wonderful at the same time. This is why I listen to Nick Cave albums and secretly crave Fruity Pebbles. It's why I allow myself to watch Access Hollywood. I think it's why I continue to run. And it's exactly how I feel about this linoleum. I can't believe Mister allowed me to order it, but I'm glad he did. It's the first and only outrageous thing about my home decor--that, and the brick red wall to go with it. You're allowed to hate it. Sometimes I'm horrified by it. But mostly, I love it.

So that's done then. As you can see from the reflection in the mirror, the windows still need dressing. I'm dragging my feet because I don't have a clue how I want to do it. Ideas, anyone?

My next big project, which I've already half started, is to empty out Elder Miss's bedroom and redo it into a boy/girl room for Boy and Little Miss to share, then redo the little bedroom upstairs all pre-teentastic for Elder Miss. I'm pretty excited about this. Truth be told, it's why I rushed to get the mudroom done as quickly as I did. The kids have been needing these rooms sorted for years now, and I couldn't, in good conscience, start that project before I finished this one.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dear Ndugu

Remember back in early December, or was it late November? It’s all such a blur. I had that really dark moment where I whined about the weather, and the darkness, and my poor choice of reading material? Honestly, I think a good 70% of that funk had to do with the books I was reading. A Thousand Splendid Suns ripped through me like a tarnished silver spoon, and left me feeling fat, vapid, and inexcusably comfortable.

Shortly after I posted that unsung piece of drivel, I stumbled upon a link to a site dedicated to humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. From there I followed a link to this organization—Women for Women—where I was swallowed in whole. I signed up immediately.

I’ve never been much of the charitable donation type. I have no excuse for this other than a vague sense of distrust for organizations that come grubbing after my money. I’ll give used clothes, and buy extra toys at Christmas for the homeless. Hell, I’m more than happy to give a pint or two of blood to whomever will take it despite my garishly tattooed ass. But actual money I’ve been more than a little bit reluctant to part with. Shame on me.

I liked the philosophy behind this group though—teach women in war torn countries a marketable trade, give them a small amount of cash each month to see them through while they’re in the program, and then hopefully set them up with a bit of investment capital so they can eventually support themselves and their children with whatever skills the organization has taught them.

There is a one time $30 administration fee—this bothers me, but is a necessary evil I suppose—and then I give $27 per month after that, $18 of which goes directly as cash in hand to which ever woman (or sister, as I’m meant to think of her) I’m matched with. The rest of the monthly payment goes towards teaching and education opportunities for women in the program. Pretty reasonable, right? Plus Oprah featured them on her show twice, so they must be legit, right? Right? What is wrong with me that I’m such a suspicious person?

After I signed up, Christmas fell upon us all and then I got sick, and I sort of forgot all about it until a week or so ago when I got an e-mail notifying me that I had been matched with a ‘sister’ in the program and the first month’s donation had been charged to my credit card. A few days later I received a packet in the mail with the name and a few (very, very few) personal details of said sister. Oh, and a picture. A dark, unflattering, miserable little picture of a guarded, weary, grim looking woman.

Kabara is her name, and I’m supposed to write a letter to her. But Jesus! What do you say? What could I possibly write to this woman about my shallow, pampered, pre-packaged, Western life that won’t, with every clumsily worded sentence, remind her of everything she doesn’t have, or worse—has possibly lost?

The instruction booklet that came with the packet says, “Oh hey, don’t worry about it. Everyone feels that way. And also, we’ll sure try to get your sister to write back but most of them are suffering from depression, or post-traumatic stress, or both, or worse, not to mention the giant hurdles of language and illiteracy we must surmount. So, like, don’t count on it. But please do write anyway. M’kay?”

Helpful. Not.

So……friends………come on… a girl out. Write this damn letter for me!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Making The Cut

This morning I woke up and, sort of spur-of-the-moment like, decided to get my hair cut.

I hate having my hair done here. Everyone knows this. I’ve never, ever, never-not-once been totally happy with the results. The cuts are always too short, too chopped, too harsh somehow to suit me. Plus I find the manners and professionalism of Norwegian stylists sort of appalling: brusque, rushed, and utterly disinterested. And the price of such cursory service? Inflated beyond belief. Too many times I’ve walked out of a Norwegian salon feeling vaguely butch and thoroughly taken advantage of. So I tend to put off going back as long as possible.

Nevertheless, my current do had reached a certain level of intolerable shagginess. It needed doing, and I was determined to see it done. So I took a bit of extra care with my clothing choices; I put some make-up on, groomed back my unibrow a bit. One wants to look one’s best while sitting under those harsh lights in front of acres of mirrors with little else to look at for a good 30 minute stretch but one’s humble self. Or is that just me?

I’ve found a place nearby where my reaction to the finished cut is generally more “Meh, it’ll do” than “Sweet Christ in heaven! Are you drunk?” And the outrageous prices are tempered by the fact that the staff all wear the same colored, fitted t-shirts (a different color for each day of the week), so you feel like your money is really going towards something worthwhile and good. Or something.

I didn’t have an appointment. By and large, it’s just not the done thing over here. Appointments are not usually made more than 2 or 3 days in advance, and as long as you’re not fussy about whom you want doing your do, walk-ins are common and welcomed everywhere. And this morning, at 30 minutes past 9, I was just such a walk-in.

Right away I sensed something different about the woman to whom I had been assigned. She was courteous. Polite. Formal, even. She asked was I ready? Would I like to have a seat? Instead of the belligerent grunts and gestures—you sit, I cut—I’ve come to expect. When she asked what I’d like done, she actually touched my hair, looked at my face, considered the task at hand, before saying, “It seems a little heavy on top. I’d like to see it stacked a bit more. Is that okay with you?”

Flustered and embarrassed by such attention, I blushed a little and said, “Yesyes I think so,” all in a breathy rush. Who was this fey blond creature with the funky, asymmetrical bob and the chunky granny glasses? I was mesmerized.

I tend to be pretty tone deaf when it comes to Norwegian accents and dialects. I’ve lived here for 12 and a half years now and still the only dialects I can identify with any certainty are Mister’s and the one spoken here in Bergen. Everything else gets labeled in my mind as either ‘not from around here but intelligible’ or ‘not from around here and completely unintelligible’ then processed accordingly (Meaning, I either pay attention, or I tune them out but continue to grin and nod my head politely. You might be surprised at the amount of time I spend vacantly nodding and bobbing my head like an asshole when I’m out in public. Mister would be horrified, though he must suspect by now.)

I knew from the way she was talking that she wasn’t a local, but she spoke so clearly and so slowly that I had no problem understanding her, and we chatted easily back and forth while she washed and rinsed and combed out. It wasn’t until she was ready to start cutting that she mentioned that she was German and had only been living in Norway for just over a year.

Duh! How dumb am I? She’s not even Norwegian. No wonder she’s so nice! Ah, and she’s German. No wonder she’s so professional!

At one point she asked me, very gently in case it was a sensitive subject, if I’d ever considered some color to cover up the flourishing crop of grey at my right temple. I explained to her that I sometimes have it done when I’m home for the summers, but I refuse to pay the price of the upkeep over here, so I kind of gave it up altogether. This led us to talking about other difference between here and there. At one point she asked point blank, “So are they better at cutting hair over there?”

I looked around the salon—two other stylists, three other customers, all Norwegians as far as I could tell. I didn’t want to get either myself blacklisted or her fired, so I said diplomatically, “Well, I don’t want say ‘better’. But there are some pretty big differences. They just have another sense of style over there. It suits me better.”

“Right. I see,” she nodded, “They’re very fond of the blunt cut here.” She looked at me pointedly through the mirror.

“Yes! Exactly.”

“They don’t know much about undercuts.”

“No! Nothing at all!”

“And,” she pinched two strands of hair on either side of my forehead, leaned down, and squinted into the mirror to check for evenness, “They’re very lazy about styling,” she finished quietly into my ear.

And just there. Just in that moment. I wanted to kiss her. With tongue.

Her name is Marianne. And she’s my new best friend. She’s “looking forward to seeing me again soon.” And she hopes that I’ll “be satisfied, but please to understand that it will take at least two more cuts to really get to know my hair.”

She wants to get to know my hair. Gulp. Flutter. Swirl. I’m the luckiest girl in the whole world!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Idiot American That I Am, I Always Thought It Was Pronounced GANG-GUS

I know. I know. It's been awhile. Again.

We lost our wireless router during the big storm on Christmas Eve, and it's taken us this long to get it sorted out.

I'm celebrating my return by trying something new. The video below is of the dance number that EM performed at her big show last week. The quality is terrible. It gets a bit better, then it gets a whole lot worse, then it gets a bit better again before it gets even worse. Sorry about that. I was taking it with my little Pentax point n' shoot, and I don't think it was meant to record video from such distances. Oh hey, but at least the awfulness of the music comes through loud and clear. Dschinghis Khan by none other than Dschinghis Khan ca. 1980.

What's that you say? Never heard of it? Not big fans of the Grand Prix Eurovision song contest then, I take it. Jilly Baby will disagree, but I say you're all a whole lot better off for your ignorance. A good 80% of the recital highlighted Eurovision contest winners and popular losers from the past 30 years or so, and oh God but was it ever a chore to endure. This Dschinghis Khan number is very much representative of the level of pop horror I'm talking about. And Waterloo by ABBA--that one also came out of the Eurovision franchise as well.

Anyway--I'm too lazy to bother with any editing. So just ignore the first group of dancers, go delete some spam or something. You'll need to start paying attention again about a minute and a half into the song. Keep you eye on the crouching figure to the far right. That's EM, and she's every bit as brilliant as you'd expect her to be. Pay particular attention to the emphatic umph of her kicks about half way through there. She told me she was pretending to be a boy. That's why it looked so real and interesting, she said.

EDIT: Having just reviewed the video as it's posted, I see that it's even more impossible to see than it is with a full screen. Sorry about that. Oh well, enjoy the music anway.