Mary Beth Writes

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Dear Friends,

I seem to be out of Deep Thoughts lately. Not sure if this is apparent to you but it is to me. This is not exactly a problem but keeps me guessing what in the world I should be writing. Or - since “should” is a sometimes toxic and generally unhelpful word – these days I am not sure what you want to read and I want to write.

So maybe I’ll just write you a quick Dear Friends. Sometimes relationships are just about checking in.

I just reread my last post about being Up North and trying to see the world around me as the universe moving, not a bunch of static stuff. And realized I didn’t say anything about relationships.

We don’t live our lives against a background. We live every moment of our lives in relationship with a moving, evolving, swaying, coming in and going out world.

Such as: I don’t live in a solid house with four walls and a roof and a bunch of possessions. I live inside a shelter built with materials that came from the earth and will someday return to it. It doesn’t no good to say, “there, that task is done.” Because our homes move slowly, but they are not static. People who joke “I’ll never be done fixing up my house,” are exactly correct. We can keep up but we can’t stop the forces of nature all around us.

Even the Greeks couldn’t keep a roof over the Acropolis.


When we moved into this house six year ago we heard some things about the people from whom we bought. The house seemed to have been owned by the parents of one of the adults. That adult was looking at a year of incarceration for OWI. The two kids had been fun when the family first moved in, but as time moved along there was more yelling and fighting in this home. After a while the neighbor wouldn’t let her kids play with these kids unsupervised. When we were moving appliances, we found a flowery note about how proud their mother was of the recovery of the person we knew was now in jail.

The first time we looked at this house I saw that the middle bedroom door was beat up with dings, kicks, and scratches. I told myself I would refinish it soon.

Like I said, it’s six years later but I’ve been working on that door for two days. It’s not going well. Argh.

Len and Dave carried the door down to the garage. Len and I dug out furniture refinishing products left from projects I did at least a decade ago. They are still viable, but I have forgotten how to use them. There was the less-toxic citrus-based goo. I put that all over one side of the door yesterday. Let it sit 15 minutes. Scraped it up with a tool that resembled but was not exactly the tool I should have used. Then I used steel wool, I don’t know what grade. A whole lot of dark 100-year-old varnish came up. But not all of it.

I came upstairs after a couple hours to ask Len what I should do next. He innocently asked me if I had read the directions. I was not amused by this callous response and said yes but I couldn’t remember what it said. He calmly suggested I could look at the product’s website. Like, who remembers the name of a product? He tried to not laugh and I saw the humor in this interchange but it was not my most “wedded bliss” moment of the week. The denatured alcohol that Len volunteered to go out to buy for me worked pretty well.

I planned to start on side two this morning. Then I looked at the door and realized a few places were still smeared with varnish. I used a different and more toxic stripper to address those spots. Suddenly the whole side needed to be sanded. I found our electric sander and had at it. I got rid of every speck of old varnish, but to accomplish that I went so deep with the sander that now some of the panels are darkish and some are light and I think that means I will have to do an intermediate staining step.

After lunch I started on the second side. First with the electric sander. That got a lot of the bottom panel to be light pine but never did totally eradicate the stain. Tried some toxic stain. Everything looks wet, but it doesn’t peel like it did yesterday. The door just looks wet and stubborn. I tried scraping, sanding, wiping with alcohol. Nothing is motivating the old varnish to come up and come off. It is just embedded in the door like a female journalist in a war zone.

Tomorrow is a new day. Right?

What I am thinking is that the unhappiness in this home came out of the boy who lived in that room. His anger and loss was kicked into that door.

Everything is relationship. This is not an easy fix.

It really doesn’t matter how efficiently or slowly I do this. I just need to keep at it. The door came from a forest in the upper Midwest and I come from the Upper Midwest, too, so I guess the door and I are in a relationship now. It’s fitting for me to work at being patient. To figure out how to do this well enough. To do the best I can to heal and improve us both. To think about that boy, with hope.


A great piece!! I laughed but then I wasn't the one doing the fixing...
Mary Beth's picture

It is funny because I keep expecting that I know what I'm doing...

This piece reminded me of a time in my life when my kids were all elementary school age and we were searching for a house to buy. We looked at a house across a country road from a fish hatchery. Just a lovely, wild place where the state stocked fish. I thought "What a beautiful view I'll have every morning." Then the tour of the house began. The place was absolutely COATED in soot, apparently from a malfunctioning woodstove. Onto the bedrooms, where one of their apparently teenage or young adult sons bunked. A large fish tank held a scary looking large snake. I don't like snakes in a house but hey okay, to each their own. Then I looked up and there on the wall was a pro Nazi poster. Other Nazi propaganda was on doors and walls in this room. I got a chill and moved on. What ultimately led me away from this residence was the lack of yard for my kids to play in. The house had literally been built into a hill which sloped up sharply right outside the back door. I often think of that house and wonder what became of the young man who inhabited that room. I hope he's okay.
Mary Beth's picture

Houses show us their stories. I can still remember parts of some of the interiors of houses we saw when house hunting in 1985. The house with cheap shag wall-to wall, bad paneling, an old man sitting in his recliner watching TV, and a line of photos hung high on the wall of young adults in their military uniforms. Family happens inside the walls and walls show it.

“Wedded bliss” moment of the week. I laughed out loud. The unhappy home makes me feel sad. I refinished some furniture of my own years ago. Loved doing it. Great writing.

Me too…laughed out loud…till you uncovered the story in the door…you are doing deep work ( well ventilated I hope)
Mary Beth's picture

In the garage, both doors up. I'm unfocused but I don't think it's from fumes...
Leonard's picture

I am working just as aimlessly on an outboard motor (you may be able to see it in the background) that was built when I was still in high school. My thinking is that, like the door, it won’t really work until it’s told me all the stories of the older guys who went fishing: sometimes to fish, sometimes with a grandchild, sometimes just to get away from house projects (like doors).

MB - there's a reason people painted all this 100-year old trim in all these beautiful, handcrafted houses. LOL We felt so blessed to find a house with unpainted trim though I now I know that we're blessed to have a house at all. (I was living under a rock, I suppose, 7 years ago when we bought.) At any rate, doors are the worst and I feel your pain. Keep going! And take lots of breaks.

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A few Ideas for Gifts & Presents


One of my favorite lines this year: “Our family does Christmas cards at 20 paces.” (I apologize that I don’t remember the author.)

Three Things 12022021


I’ve had so many interesting thoughts in the past ten days. These thoughts have whirled into my mind, swirled in circles like a canoer too dazzled by the beauty of the terrain to think about what that roaring sound is – and then whoosh over the waterfalls of my brain to disappear. Such is adult life.

Waukesha's Holiday Parade & Us

This photo is of Milwaukee's 'Dancing Grannies'. Some of them were killed and hurt yesterday. 


Coming & Going


And just like that, my website is back.

Behind every website are a zillion lines of code. If you want to see what that looks like behind a page you are perusing – do this: On a computer (not on a phone) right click on any segment of a website. A box will open, click on Inspect and that will show you the code being used in that part of that website. You can’t mess with it, but you can see it.

...and we’re home …


Many of you sent emails and notes and we read every single one. Thank you! We loved the photos of where you live and what you are seeing in your world … and Neal, that fish that you caught is BIG!

A very small update on the very big upheaval In Len’s and my life


We are doing pretty well. Len has 46 staples in his head – the rehab admitting person counted them. Not sure if I wanted to know, but now I do.

His mind, brain, coordination, balance, and motor movements all seem to be exactly the way they always were. Twice he has politely helped the professional therapists who are helping him – unscramble some confusing things on their computers.  

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