Undesigning our time off

More than a year ago, Cane and I realized that, because of our priorities and our schedules with our kids, breaks from school are the only time we’re going to be able to make large progress on any of our home projects. (You can see the time analysis here.)

As last week’s spring break approached, we knew we were going to have a few days with no kids, and we talked about a variety of things we might do to make some big progress on the home front:  paint the entry door, finish prepping the family room floor, put in a garden by our mailbox.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  front garden

We think some plants would look much nicer than rocks.

But we could never land on any one project, and we never made a real plan. Late in the week before our break, we still couldn’t decide. So, on the spur of the moment, we decided not to decide. Instead, we made reservations for a one-night stay in Hood River, a small town about an hour east of us, located in the Columbia River Gorge.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Columbia River Gorge

This (sorta) Old Life:  Hood River

Instead of tearing out carpet or painting the front door or planting a garden, we drove down the highway and spent the night in an old hotel.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Hood River Hotel

The Gorge is a destination for outdoor and wine enthusiasts, full of wineries and places for windsurfing, hiking, and biking. We, however, took advantage of none of that.

We did what we always like to do best, which is walk around neighborhoods and look at houses and walk around town and take photos of cool-looking buildings and other stuff.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Colorful Hood River house

Yes, this is someone’s home. (Or so it seemed to be.)

This (sorta) Old Life:  Easter bear in Hood River

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Mt. HOod train

We also like to eat and hang out in coffee shops, and we did some of that, too.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Rita in coffee shop

We avoided the touristy boutiques, but we did stop in at our favorite store in Hood River:

This (sorta) Old Life:  Artifacts in Hood River

And that is where we found a thing we need like we need another hole in our heads:

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  bad art painting

But this was the source of a great adventure on our second day. The owner of the shop told us that it was a painting of a church in nearby White Salmon, a small town across the Columbia on the Washington side. He told us how to find it, so we decided to drive over and and see if we could find the subject of our new (bad art) painting.

Well, we drove all through the neighborhoods and town and though we found a cool pioneer cemetery (we love strolling through cemeteries almost as much as neighborhoods), we couldn’t find the church in our painting.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  White Salmon pioneer cemetery

Usually we have to guess at stories through the information on the headstones, but this one gave us lots of information.

So we stopped at the library to see if someone there could help us.

This (sorta) Old Life:  White Salmon library

The librarian there told us that she’d lived in White Salmon her whole life and she didn’t know what church it might be–maybe the Mormon church? she wondered with another employee–and so we went on our way.

We decided to follow the main road out a little further, into the next community over, and there we found this:

This (sorta) Old Life: Old church

Which is, yes, a Mormon church, with the same general shape as the church in our painting. But it is not clearly the church in our painting. There are no stained-glass windows, and the spire is in the wrong place, and–most notably–there is no mountain in the background.

We spent a good half-hour trying to figure out if it could be the church of our painting anyway, walking around it to see it from every angle. We think the building has been added on to, and probably in the year’s since the painting’s date of 1971.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Old church

And there were telephone poles…

This (sorta) Old Life:  church in White Salmon

..and there was a mountain, if you stood at the back of the church and looked south:

This (sorta) Old Life:  church in White Salmon

You can see the tip of the mountain just to the right of the spire (like in the painting).

We finally decided that someone in our story–either the artist or the shop owner–exercised a little poetic license (which all good artists do). That’s just fine with us.

We had so much fun with that treasure hunt, we decided to drive a little further along Highway 141, a winding road that climbs hills high above the Columbia River, and we came upon this:

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  old school

Something about this abandoned school just pulled at us. We wanted to know what its story is–how it was built, who worked and learned inside its walls, why it was allowed to fall into such ruin.

(Something cool I discovered in the writing of this post:  Anne Rankin, buried in the White Salmon cemetery, was a “school teacher at Husum.” Based on a little quick research, I believe this old school is located in Husum. I might be exercising some poetic license of my own, but I’m going to believe that this is the school she taught in.)

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  old school

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  old school

The school got us thinking and talking about why it is that we are fascinated with buildings, especially old ones, especially homes and schools and churches.

Truly, there is just about nothing we like doing more than walking or driving through neighborhoods at dusk, just when the people living in their houses are turning their lights on. We like to look in the windows, catch a glimpse of people setting the table, or stirring something at the stove, or sitting in a chair and reading.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Hood River home

We like to imagine their lives, wondering how it is that they came to live in that place, with the others who share their shelter.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Hood River home

We wonder why they’ve made the choices they have. Why live in that house, in that community? Why those plants, that paint color? Why the little row of terra cotta pots above the door?

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Hood River home

We don’t really know why we have this fascination with home, with shelter, but we do–and we know that it’s somehow at the heart of why we spend so much time and energy on our own.

Except, of course, for this last week, when we did not make any major progress on anything.

We did, however, do a little bit of a lot of things.

We spent some easy time with family.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Family

My mom, making my great-grandma’s spaghetti recipe.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: girls doing hair

We did our taxes. We cleaned our cars (inside and out). I finally began my chair cushion reupholstery project, and Cane got more carpet and glue off the concrete floor of the family room.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  removing family room carpet

A messy job with nasty chemicals. You know it’s bad if Cane is wearing shoes! :-)

And the weather was so nice (seriously, we have never ever ever had weather this magnificent for spring break), we did begin that garden project (but didn’t get a photo).

As our week drew to a close, we realized that it had been a lot like this blog post–a bit rambly, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

And you know what? It was great. 

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Cane in hood river

We did get things done, but without any strain that might have come from preconceived ideas about how much we should get done. In fact, I’m wondering if we got more done this way than we might have if we’d set goals and then procrastinated and failed to meet them. I know we feel better than we would have doing that.

Instead of feeling worn out by doing nothing but work or hangdog about our lazy ways, we feel rested and rejuvenated and ready to make the long sprint to the end of the school year.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: Rita and Grace at Easter

The further we get in our journey of reclaiming this house and making it our home, the more we realize that the story we see in so many home blogs and magazines is one that we can’t write upon the pages of our life.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  family room

We are coming to understand that our home/life is not going to be transformed through a series of tidy before-and-afters. It’s not often going to be about projects you can complete in a weekend, or all-at-once room reveals.

Instead, it is going to unfold in a series of starts and pauses and stops, with detours to interesting places and discoveries of small treasures we never could have planned for.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  painting detail church

Although it wasn’t done consciously, we can see now that our week was as undesigned as our home projects often are–and that, like so many of our projects, it ended up better than any week we could have planned out in advanced detail.

Eventually, we will get back to finishing the entry. Eventually, all the carpet will be removed and the glue scraped up. Those cushion covers will be sewn.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  chair reupholstery project

In the meantime, we’re going to be fully living our lives. The important thing, we’re realizing, is that it’s all journey, not destination.

The painting we found isn’t, for us, about adding a piece of decor to our house. It isn’t even about the church. What it’s really about is our shared memory of looking for it.

We’re realizing that in the journey of making our home–in making our lives–we’ll likely never fully arrive, there will always be a next corner to turn. So it’s OK to wander, to backtrack, to take our time and take it all in.

There’s really no need to hurry.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: Hood River street

We hope that when our time is all gone, when our story is done, there will still be projects waiting for us to finish them. We suspect that when we no longer have things we want to make and do, we’ll no longer really be living.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Hood River blossomSo from here on out, we give ourselves permission to look, to wonder, and to wander.

We’d love to know: What are you going to give yourself permission to wander through? Hope you’ll let us know in the comments.