Friday, August 24, 2012

In Praise of Dabbled Things

(I don't want my paint job to look like this but it's lovely nonetheless.....)

The other day I got rather aggravated as I worked on a Home Project. This is not surprising since I have a love-hate relationship with household projects. Love the idea. Hate the actual execution, since I'm lazy and imprecise by nature and it requires ongoing supernatural powers to change me--but which I continue to invoke regularly. Anyway, to be specific: we had gotten the trim in several rooms painted but for financial and family disagreement reasons (the trim had been my idea while my husband preferred keeping it dark), we hadn't done some other adjoining rooms. So--once greater family unity was established on the esthetic end-- I  decided to tackle the trim in my kitchen (including a rather substantial bay window) myself. For a non-precision person like me, it can be a daunting task. As I struggled,  I found myself getting rather annoyed at the half baked way my family often does things. I mean, heck, it would have been so much easier if we had gotten the painters to do the whole thing. I wouldn't be sweating as I primed the window hoping that my nursing infant wouldn't wake up and need me before I'd cleaned the paint off my hands.  Why can't we do things right? I wondered (OK, muttered bitterly) to myself.  Why do we always DABBLE instead of doing things wholesale?

Somehow, luckily, I remembered a couple of things. One was some of the hundred houses or so houses we'd seen while house hunting. (Really, we did see a hundred between our two house hunts in the Philly area. More on that some other time). I remembered how many had clearly done the WHOLE HOUSE in a given period. That period often involved a predilection for thick green shag carpet, mirrored walls and possibly doors, and very bold, very adherent wallpaper. I was open to radical redecorating but I remember sometimes thinking that it would be hard to remove some of the decorating choices entirely from those houses, and that I probably couldn't afford to do so. I--and possibly the houses owners--would have been much better off if they'd done only one room or area at a time. Then they might not have fallen prey to thinking whatever was popular at the time was the way to do everything. They would have done better if they'd dabbled....

I also found myself thinking about Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem Pied Beauty (thank you, 11th grade English!). It's the one where Hopkins gives praise to "dappled things"--freckles and so forth. I love freckles and freckled people but back in Hopkins' era they weren't considered so very pretty. So he was giving thanks for a beauty that many people wouldn't have recognized. He was noticing and loving a loveliness that many hadn't yet come to appreciate.

So maybe there is an upside to all our home's Dabbled Things. Here's to hoping that time and maturity help me recognize their loveliness more fully.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How I Challenged the Universe—and Won

    ...well, maybe sort of.....

One of my favorite family stories concerns some sophisticated praying my sister Jessica did as a young girl. When my mom was pregnant with her fifth child (Jessica was 9), Jess really wanted the baby to be a girl. So she prayed really hard that my mom have a girl. Instead, my brother Mike was born (and yes, she—and I—love him anyway). But when my mom got pregnant again four years later, an older, wiser, Jessica decided that it was time to try some reverse psychology on God. So she prayed that my mom have a boy. And sure enough, Anna came out female. Triumph!

I couldn’t help thinking about that story in my recent attempts to beat the universe at its own game. You, see, I have really bad luck. Not the ”my-life-sucks-everything-always-goes-wrong-and-no-one-loves me” kind of bad luck, just the “I’ve-played-this-game-1,000 times-how-come-I-haven’t-won-yet?” variety.  What makes it stranger is that many, many, times when I play things I really think I’m going to win. Really. I even envision scenarios in my head where people ask me and I have to admit to just having had this sense that this was my lucky day. Only it never is. But that hasn’t stopped me. I’ve entered HGTVs sweepstakes,’s daily giveaway, May Fair Peg Boards—you name it. But nada, scattah, zilch.
That is, until this summer. My husband, you see, has quite good luck. He won a raffle at our church last summer and this summer he won a prize basket at a work event.  Our local pool has been doing a number of new fundraising initiatives this summer and decided to raffle off a number of prize baskets. Simple enough: you buy your tickets and put them in the jar of whichever prizes you’re interested in winning. Easy.  Except that I kept looking at them all and mentally calculating the relationship of my interest in the basket to my likelihood of winning. Spa package—good stuff, but too many people. Free photography session—not so many people but possible hidden costs…So it took considerably longer than trying to decide what to have for dinner at a brand new restaurant on my anniversary. That is, quite a long time. But as I was (finally) filling out my tickets, I had a revelation regarding the self evident truths already established. I’ll call it Corollary A: I have bad luck. My husband has good luck. What if I took this principle and utilized it to my advantage?

So I tested the universe. I filled out half of the tickets with my name and cell number. I filled the other half out with my husband’s name and our home number.  And lo and behold, Colin won, confirmed by a call to our house the next day. And it was a prize basket tailor-made for him—no random toys for the kids or manicures for me. A discounted pool membership and a couple of free swimming lessons.

You may call it luck. I call it working the psychological angle on the universe.  I’ll take it over my bad luck any day.