Surprised by Joy

Few authors have the ability to travel with us from childhood to adulthood, but C.S. Lewis has traveled with me. From his Chronicles of Narnia to Mere Christianity (an adaptation of BBC radio talks), it was not so much his ideals as his eloquent and thoughtful writing that captivated me. The work that has perhaps held greatest significance for me is Surprised by Joy, an autobiography of sorts that also tells of his discovery of “joy” in life, which he describes as fulfillment of deep longing. For him, it was a path from atheism to Christianity and for me that path has been rather the opposite. But the idea of being surprised by joy, of discovering something wonderous and life-changing when not expected… that I understand. So I borrow Mr. Lewis’ words now to describe what has happened to me (and explains where I’ve been) during the past few months.

One night in February as I lay in the dark next to TBM, I was overcome with an emotion so viceral (and I now know, so erroneous it’s confusing) that I told TBM, “I am deeply, deeply unhappy.” I knew from whence the emotion came; my monthly cycle was due any day. So this was PMS; and also another months’ grappling with the reality that motherhood- a role I had longed for since my earliest girlhood days- was not to be mine. The closest I would come to motherhood would be nurturing and loving the Large Breed (and love him I do… with such intensity that sometimes I bite his fur. I know that’s a strange thing, but it’s what I do sometimes when I’m hugging him and feel a great surge of love for that ridiculous dog).

About a week and a half later, after a perfect vacation with TBM that buoyed my spirits in all the ways I’d been needing, I took a pregnancy test. I didn’t need to, except to confirm that I’d entered peri-menopause, but instead the test confirmed I was pregnant. Surprised by joy. Oh joy, oh joy, oh joy.

Joy of Spring

The next several weeks were nerve-wracked, as I feared and anticipated miscarriage, which had always come before. But the surprises and joy continued: a strong heartbeat was heard pattering inside my belly; tiny nubs of arms and legs were forming, and jabbing out from the screen of an ultrasound machine. Blood levels were measured and found good; genetic tests were pronounced “clean;” clothes became tight; scents and foods took on revulsion. Oh joy, oh joy, oh joy.

Now, just into the second trimester of pregnancy (my pregnancy!), it’s starting to sink in for both TBM and me that there will likely be a live baby at the end of this whole process. The amount of change that will take place, the details we have to sort out, the budget crunching yet to do… all is so overwhelming so as to make us a laughing stock. Because our standard answer to every question from family and friends is: “We haven’t thought about that/ talked about that yet.” The only decision we have made is that we want to be surprised by the old-fashioned joy of learning if the baby is a boy or a girl when the baby is born, not before.

I’ve been derailed from normalcy during the early stages of pregnancy, but am now easing back in. Spring has finally, gratefully arrived; seedlings I’ve planted are coming along nicely but there’s a lot of work to do in the back yard before they’ll become part of a proper garden. Gratefully, morning sickness is subsiding and I’m able to work outside on sunny days; and do some serious spring cleaning and organizing inside on rainy days. I suppose soon we should start thinking about where a baby might sleep, how we’ll tote it around, not to mention what kind of name it should have. We’ll get there. There’s time.

What I want most to do, in the months to come during which this wee one is growing inside of me, is to do as C.S. Lewis advised (albeit in a different context): “Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears.” There is so much wonder to take in, being part of this surprising, joyous miracle, and I don’t want to miss a thing.




Reclaiming Home

I’m one of those people easily sidetracked. So it’s no surprise I’ve not posted in a while, sidetracked as I was by the Holidays, completing our floor restoration, and starting to put the house back together. It’s going to take longer than when we moved in because we have a lot more stuff now, and much of it looks terrible on top of the now-beautiful floors.


We have a lot of amazing resale/vintage/street find items, but they need TLC and time I’ve not yet given them. Until then I need to be creative in reassembling the house to the cultured bohemian vibe (is there such a thing?) I hope to create.

TBM and I decided to give gifts to our house this year for Christmas- she’s been such a good girl in all we’ve put her through. One of my gifts was shelves for the room we call the library, ironically, because in the past, what we had to hold our books was an old swayback Billy from Ikea and a bunch of wine crates standing on end. We threw Billy out when we started hoarding at the end of the summer, because he fell apart in our hands when we moved him, and when I started putting the library back together in late November, I despaired over stacks and stacks of books and no place to put them. I thought about boxing them and storing in the attic for a future when we’ve got funds to build a custom library, oh, perhaps something like this:

Click photo for link

That’s gonna take some time.

While reclaiming the house, TBM has moved his studio from the second floor to the first and he decided not to take along some track shelving he had hanging on a wall. It dawned on me if I reused it in the library, along with the wine crates, I probably wouldn’t have to store our books. But it seemed one slim set of shelves would look lonely in this room with twelve foot ceilings. So my gift was purchasing more tracks and shelves- a simple Rubbermaid system from Home Depot. I wouldn’t have chosen black, but that’s what I was reusing from upstairs and I wanted everything to match.

I used Rubbermaid single track shelving with brackets for our new library shelves. Fairly easy to install with a power drill, level, screwdriver, and major patience.

I used Rubbermaid single track shelving with brackets for our new library shelves. Fairly easy to install with a power drill, level, screwdriver, and major patience.

I sang praises when I placed shelves on the brackets and everything was LEVEL!

I sang praises when I placed shelves on the brackets and everything was LEVEL!

Loading one wall of shelves with books (this is not the same wall as the last two photos). Organizing our books made me want to re-read so many of them!

Loading one wall of shelves with books (this is not the same wall as the last two photos). Organizing our books made me want to re-read so many of them!

A word about hardware: Our walls in some places are plaster; in other places drywall. I used a stud finder to locate as many as I could, screwing the upright for the shelf directly into the stud. Where I couldn’t find studs, I used toggle bolts. It took three trips to the local hardware store to get bolts long enough to provide “clearance” behind the upright and into the wall, mostly due to concern that the bolts would protrude too far inside the wall and not allow our pocket doors to open and close. In the end, 4 inch-long bolts worked.

A word about drilling: I was worried about making big ugly holes in the wall, but relaxed knowing they would be covered by the uprights (when we build that custom library, we’ll deal with the holes). It’s important to drill the hole just big enough for the toggle to fit through, but not so big that it swims around too much inside the wall. I used a 3/8 inch drill bit, which was just right.

Here’s a finished wall of shelves, though now we need bookends to avoid the tilted look going on.


Another time I’ll post pictures of the completed room, with which I must say I am quite pleased. But the nicest result: the pocket doors (glimpsed on the left in this photo) open into TBM’s new studio. Time was, TBM would hole away in his studio upstairs, but since moving downstairs and throughout the Holidays and start of this winter, he’s been keeping one pocket door open. It’s wonderful to have him so central, to have his music flowing through the house, to let the Large Breed to go from room to room and plant himself where he pleases. Not surprisingly, that’s usually on the floor in TBM’s room, where the dog slumbers and snores as TBM creates wondrous sounds during the day and sips whiskey at night in a plump chair in the corner next to the mantle.

Restoration Story: Update


A couple of weeks ago I posted about realizing that our floor refinishing project is actually a restoration project. I need to remind myself that restoring takes time and requires sustained patience. We really are making progress, but there is still so much to do that I become overwhelmed. Friday evening I told TBM I would probably have a meltdown before the weekend was over, and today was the day. Continue reading

Alternative Living, Part One


When I was a teenager, a family with two young sons moved in next door. I began babysitting for them and eventually also worked at a retail store they owned downtown. Oh, how my world was broadened by associating with the this clan. The parents were both artists; the family were vegetarians. I believe the husband/dad was bisexual. The couple had sophisticated, eclectic taste; art covered their walls; they each set up home studios and worked through manic fits of creation. They listened to Joni Mitchell and Eliza Gilkyson, wore Calvin Klein and Prada. Their older son was brilliant: he was reading chapter books and conducting science experiments at age five (he completed a medical degree in his early twenties). Their younger son was a free spirit, very affectionate and kind. He showed promising artistic ability even as a toddler. I wonder what he is doing now…

The flair for living this family possessed in spades was offset by their surprising existence before becoming my neighbors: they lived in the Southwest in an off-the-grid house built from tin cans and adobe. I wouldn’t have believed it, except a feature article in a national magazine was written about the house, about them, and I read the article, pored over the photos several times at their house. The one photo that will stay forever in my mind’s eye was of the wife/mother in front of a honeycomb wall of cans, sunlight from a window streaming down on her raven hair as she held her infant son. I remember thinking, “I wouldn’t mind living in a tin can house if it’s that lovely!”

Upper wall of an Earthship home bathroom. Let there be beautiful light! Photo: Wikipedia

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Re-Loving Romeo


Three references to Romeo, for your consideration:

One Juliet cried from her balcony, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? She wasn’t wondering where he was; she was wondering what purpose he could have in her life. If the families into which they were born would not allow Romeo and Juliet to be together, then what would become of their love? Why had they met? Why were they tortured in their passion? We all know how this tragic love story ends.

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Re-Loving After Being Wrong(ed)


As I’ve considered my topic for 31 Days, many seemingly tangential ideas have come to mind. I remembered the story of Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, two people who became friends after Jennifer wrongfully named Ronald as the man who raped her. You can read their story here or listen to it here. It’s a beautiful example of goodness in humanity and turning tragedy into triumph. With the sadness and negativity that sometimes abounds in our world, I’m grateful people like Ronald and Jennifer live among us.

Restoration Story


I posted a while back about the love of old things beginning at home, in reference to the house I grew up in. It was a wonderful place, an equally perfect setting for tea parties or haunted houses. When TBM and I were looking at houses to buy and we saw the one we now own, one of my first thoughts was “Too much like the house I grew up in. I don’t want it.” Also: I was really hoping for a “fixer upper,” though TBM did not agree, and this house had been recently renovated. It was the most amazing house we had seen, with good old bones and a still-intact soul. We had been through a lot of renovated houses in the shabby chic town where we reside, and many of them had been voided old structure charm: Outside they said “historic”; inside they said “modern condo.” Not interested, thank you very much. But this house was different- thoughtfully renovated, interior footprint intact, and full of special features: a tin ceiling, pocket doors, exposed brick, front and back staircase, and twelve-foot ceilings. In the end we bought her and have been slowly making her into a home.

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