Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Changing Décor Gave Me The Shutters

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published February 24, 2011]  © 2011

OK, I admit it.  I don’t like change.

When Olof married me sixteen years ago after eight years of commuting from the Bay area, I knew it was important for him to have his own space in my house since he’d had to give up his own.  Since Rory had just left for college, I told Olof that room was his to do what he wished.

Who knew I married someone with no taste?

What I really meant when I made the offer, of course, was that he was free to do what he wanted with the furniture.  Buy more. Decorate at will.  No Air Force souvenir too tacky.

What I wasn’t prepared for was his decision to dump the wall-to-wall carpeting and shutters in favor of hardwood floors and blinds. 

I still remember the dagger that went through my heart when he announced this. 

I grew up in upstate New York in a house with hardwood floors and blinds. The floors were cold, noisy, high maintenance and uncomfortable to sit and play on.  And those Venetian blinds?  I spent my childhood in enforced labor dusting those suckers slat by slat on Saturday mornings.

From the time I was six, my dream home included only wall-to-wall carpet and shutters.  OK, so shutters have slats too but my dream included a cleaning lady. 

Meanwhile Olof was peeling back a corner of the wall-to-wall.  “Great!” he said.  “There’s hardwood under here.  All we have to do is rip out this crummy carpet.” 

Crummy carpet?  Could this marriage be saved?

I have to confess that I delayed, stalled, cajoled, and otherwise resisted removing my beloved carpet and shutters.  But ultimately, a deal’s a deal, even if the dealer was a total idiot to ever have made such an ill-considered promise to the dealee. 

The day the floor refinishers showed up to take out the room’s carpet, I panicked.  In my heart I knew this was a terrible decision, one that Olof was going to regret once the sterile Siberian floors were exposed and the nasty charmless blinds in place.  But we’d never be able to match the carpet again.

Which is when I hatched upon a brilliant idea.  For a large undisclosed sum, I hired the floor folks to roll up the carpet and pad and wrestle it up into the crawl space in the attic.  (No garage in this house.)  Who knew carpet could be so heavy?  But when Olof realized the error of his ways, I could say, “Tada!  It’s not too late!  The old carpet is still here!”   He would be in awe of my prescience and creativity.

The floor guys saw it differently. “I just hope you realize that that carpet is up there permanently, lady,” they groused.  “And we wouldn’t advise standing underneath it in an earthquake.”

When Olof came home from work that night, he admired the newly sanded floor awaiting its first coat of urethane.  “You’re taking this all remarkably well,” he said.  “I would have thought you’d be on your third glass of wine by now.” 

I smiled beatifically.  “Olof, my little lutefisk, my only goal in life is to make you happy.”

Which he was until he got out the ladder some months later to bring down a computer box from the attic.

“Inga,” he said tersely, “why is there five hundred pounds of carpet in our crawl space?”

Ultimately, all the carpet in the house had to be replaced, the worse for wear after twenty years of kids. So it was either all new carpeting – or go for all hardwood.  But by this time, the kids were gone, and I’d come to realize that these were not my mother’s hardwood floors.  Nowadays they were easy to clean, almost maintenance free, lovely to look at.  OK, so Olof was right about the floors. (I still dispute the blinds.)

When the refinisher guys came to rip out the carpet throughout the house, I had to pay them six times the original undisclosed price to get the quarter ton of carpet out of the crawl space.  “What moron would do this?” they grunted as they wrestled the carpet down. 

That’s easy:  one who hates change.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

**Geographically Lost At Sea

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published February 10, 2011]  © 2011

Recently I hired an amiable local kid to help me move some boxes, explaining that my husband was in Saudi Arabia.

My teen helper’s brow puckered for a moment before he inquired, “Is that near Fresno?”

At some point, it seems that geography ceased to be taught in the U.S. 

When Olof and I were relocated by his company to Scandinavia for two years in 2005, I stopped by a La Jolla shipping office and queried the sweet young thing at the counter about shipping rates to Sweden.

“Is that like a country?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “it’s very much like a country.” 

There must have been a least some minimal geography instruction at one point as my older son remembers being taught the mnemonic Not So Fast at Bird Rock Elementary to help remember the order of Norway, Sweden and Finland on a map. 

By pure luck, my younger son was blessed with two years of concentrated geography courtesy of a third and fourth grade teacher who began each day with a student giving a presentation, with maps, of a city, country, or region of their choosing anywhere in the world.  By his second year, Henri, then nine, wanted to come up with something really different.

“How about Abu Dhabi?” I said, since Olof had just been there.

“Mom,” said Henri with barely disguised annoyance, “Abu Dhabi has been done THREE TIMES.”

Inspired by this teacher, I had acquired a Map of the World shower curtain for the kids’ bathroom.  They might never look at a globe but they had to take a bath.

Several years later, Henri and I were watching a quiz show and the clue was “island nation in the Indian Ocean beginning with “M”.  Mom had to ponder that, but without missing a beat, Henri said, “Madagascar, Mauritius, or Maldives.” 

“You actually remember that from fourth grade?”  I said.

“No,” he said, “I remember that from yesterday from the shower curtain.” 

We are now on at least the 10th successor of that first one.  As an atlas, it tends to run at least a few years behind but the manufacturer has gradually updated it:  Bombay has morphed into Mumbai, and all the “stans” are duly indicated.  We have long embraced Geography Through Shower Curtains.

At one point, a decorator grumbled that the curtain was unforgivably tacky and why had I bothered to remodel the bathroom if I were going to keep it? 

We’re keeping it because at my British nephew’s wedding to a young lady from Tucson, the groom’s exasperated uncle ditched his prepared toast for a lecture on “Where is England?” to a bewildered group of the bride’s guests.

We’re keeping it because when I went to a last minute medical appointment before leaving for Sweden, the physician’s assistant departed the room with a cheery, “Well, enjoy the Alps!”

We’re keeping it because a younger friend asked me to bring her back a box of those great chocolates.  Even when I suggested she might be confusing Sweden with Switzerland, it was followed by a look of, “There’s a difference?”  And then:  “So you’ll bring the chocolates?” 

But getting back to the kid who asked about Arabia’s proximity to Fresno:   

“Actually,” I said, “it’s closer to Omaha.”