" …that old reliable sky keeps falling."

Chicken Little was right. The sky is falling. His observation was not particularly insightful, for he merely stated what might well have been obvious to any observer had they been paying attention and willing to speak their "truth." That he was later shown, to the satisfaction of his neighbors, to be a fool, merely demonstrates the iffy nature of sharing one's particular "truth" and failing to follow the party line. It had become, then as now, the overwhelmingly popular misconception that the sky was not, indeed, falling, but Master Little must have not received the memo, for it's difficult for even someone as studiously cynical as myself to believe that Little performed an overt act of dissent. He was not, by all accounts, that sort of bird.

So he spoke an obvious truth, but one that almost everyone knew polite people never publicly declare.

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"Drives me freaking crazy."

I imagine The Gods conspiring over a few beers on a particularly jocular Gods' Night Out evening, just how to drive mortals most crazy. Some, the more hard-assed traditionalists, argued that nothing beat a decent pestilence, but the younger smart-assed contingent carried that conversation after the third (or was that the fourth?) IPA. The whippersnappers convinced the others that nothing, not war, pestilence, grief, or even rampaging boogiemen hoards could beat a periodic dose of grace, undeserved beneficence. What other gift could be more shockingly humbling? What other experience could so consistently hush a haughty mouth? What other outcome better encourages acceptance of a great mystery, the very soul of The Gods' eternal branding strategy?

And so it came to pass that the least of us totally undeserving would occasionally come to experience genuine grace.

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"Momentum's grinding gearbox knows only forward …"

The LastDay arrives like a thief in the night, just like Scripture predicted it would; one minute separating familiarity and eternity. Eternity's reported to last a lot longer, but infinite, beyond anyone's ability to grasp, while the familiar seems as if I somehow possess it, though it actually exists like a kinescope image, mere flickering flashes of light and darkness. Real, of course, has always been a controversial concept, us being such unreliable observers and all. I've been reluctantly imbedded in what began as an unwanted winter, now feeling as though I'm teetering on the edge of losing something precious, for yesterday was the very last full day of AnotherWinter. I had to look it up to confirm the rumor. By 9:16AM PDT this morning, AnotherSpring will have arrived.

The thermometer insisted the temperature was thirty degrees when I left the house this morning, not an unusual Winter morning temperature.

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"Bread and water will do for now."

I would have willingly sold my soul for a pair of pliers, or gladly forfeited my kingdom, or so I swore. The contractor doesn't work weekends, no matter how close to the end we stand, which means we have only the tools I thought to bring before the job began. Next time, I swear, I'm bringing my own pliers and screwdrivers. The Muse and I arrive at more or less our usual time because we're the owners and ownership doesn't come with days off. The neighbors head off to church but we're strictly secular this Sunday, focused upon painting interior windows and trim. We'd come by on the rainy Saturday before to get started, her priming, me putting finish coats on frame exteriors. This sunny Sunday should allow us space to prep a window frame and finish coat all the windows so the contractor can reinstall them Monday morning.

The Muse works on the new window, a futuristic job with "easily" removable panes. (Easily if you know the trick, which I don't and likely never will.)

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" … what passes for ages in human-scaled terms."

Old houses serve as TimeCapsules. Pull flooring and discover clues to the past beneath. Walls hold decades-old toys somehow slipped between cracks and preserved intact. Layers of wallpaper hint at how radically tastes change and also how similar some eras seem. Not everything old seems new again, some of it just seems tacky now. The bottom layer, the presumed original stuff, showed remarkable workmanship and design. Subsequent "improvements" trended continuously downhill. Of course we believe our restoration superior to all but the original, though we have restored little beyond doorknobs, rethinking out-dated principles and employing what we think of as more aging-appropriate materials. We expect ours to last and not just cosmetically coverup, unlike some past remodels on the place.

We can date each change by the newspapers used for stuffing siding cracks and the quality of materials. The Seventies introduced a variety of then-futuristic materials that have aged about as well as potato salad left in the sun.

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"Enlightenment ain't all it's cracked up to be."

I suppose that we all live within some degree of trance, never fully mindful, never completely unaware. I think of myself as fairly fully present here, though I suspect that I'm a poor judge of my own reliability as a witness on this subject. I can get so focused upon completing a task or reaching some objective that I know I'm tuning out some of the outside world, though I doubt that I could accurately assess the magnitude of all I ignore when in active pursuit. I think of this focusing as a kind of streamlining, and while my little mind game makes me no more aerodynamic or svelte, I experience a slipperier passage than I suspect I otherwise might. I can also catch myself nurturing little grudges as my little personal sacrifices fail to fuel the easy successes I imagine them worthy of receiving.

I'm focused upon end results now, with less than a week remaining in our presence here in this grand delusional kitchen makeover.

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"A week from now, I'll be gone again."

Time turns wobbly near the end of our stay. What seemed nigh on to infinite when we first arrived has compressed into a thin slice with many contentions. Neither of us seem to comprehend what remains undone or how much of our now semi-precious time each item might demand from us. The serial certainty of plans have matured into multiple dimensions, each vying for time and attention with probably much that we still cannot yet sense waiting to bushwhack us away from completing the recognized remaining important work. Some stuff won't happen in the stillness after we leave but we cannot determine what fits into this category, so we continue to do what we do. What else could we possibly do?

The fresh patterns which renewed us just after our arrival have become too familiar now and a vestigial longing for home and ordinary time competes with our appreciation of those differences so subtly becoming unremarkable again.

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" …the great and often surprising gifts …"

I can't remember a situation in my life so far where I entered feeling fully prepared. I really could have studied harder, dressed more appropriately, brought the proper tools, shined my shoes, and remembered to eat breakfast first. My entrances teeter on the edge of pratfalls. My exits, inevitably untimely. I move like a Pachinko ball, bouncing off perfectly foreseeable barriers. When I sit down to write, I break into a little sweat, unsure, even after beginning, where I think I'm trying to get to.

I've always found offensive the idea that one might scrupulously plan anything ahead. As a project manager, I at first tried hard to satisfy the usual expectations before growing to understand that those expectations amounted to
magical expecting.

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" …shortcomings prominently displayed."

I started this project more than a decade ago. I might complete it this month. As old house projects go, this one's in no way exceptional. Every old house holds more than a single owner's lifetime of necessary maintenance and aspired after improvements. The queue of undone work remains essentially fixed, as new necessities and aspirations easily replace any completion. In our time in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, I've removed (or had removed) all but two windows, repairing and reglazing the many double hungs. These, to my mind, are real windows. Supported by sash cord, openable both top and bottom, easily as old as the house and still in remarkably good shape.

Everyone who sees them says the same thing, that we really should replace them all with modern double-glazed and fit storm windows over the outside, like we should grow up and face the future unafraid of utterly defacing the place.

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"She'll stay behind long after I've gone."

As the Winter winds down, doors open into a recently longed-for world. I've suddenly taken to taking off my sweatshirt before I set to work, hanging it on any handy branch or fence. I'm wearing my havelock to keep the suddenly brighter sun out of my face and off my neck. Until Daylight Savings Time disrupted the steady progression, a little more sunlight, or the hint of impending daylight, greeted me as I headed out to write each morning. After, I felt like I'd been sent back to Go without the promise of two hundred dollars, but Winter's almost a goner anyway. She's on her last legs, as a no longer false Spring nudges her aside.

I'm down to working on doors and trim now, the stuff real destruction and reconstruction contractors consider to be final touches.

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"I hardly recognize the place anymore."

I stand a bit taller than the crescent of mountains protectively gazing down into this valley. Of course my perception must be an optical illusion, but Walla Walla has always thrived on illusions. From the valley floor, the sky seems to arc over its perimeter, giving the illusion of standing in the center of a half globe, a snow globe lacking only snow and a firm shake to convincingly produce a small snowstorm on demand. The weather tends to be gentle here, protected by moderating currents in the Pacific ocean, three hundred miles West, the influence swimming upstream along the broad and beautiful Columbia Gorge to impart what the Chamber of Commerce swears amounts to a Mediterranean climate, which, of course, it isn't. It's no Montana, either, but it lacks appreciable humidity to convincingly mimic Sardinia.

Promoters insist that it's a well-kept secret, and it maintains this distinction no matter how much international press the place garners.

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" …I can't seem to see the world as it is …"

The way I write sometimes lands me in trouble. I describe my observations connotatively, which means almost everything I write remains open to the reader's interpretation. I'm usually trying to describe the essentially indescribable, perhaps a writer's sole duty. This means that I heavily rely upon metaphor and analogy, constructing relationships that could not possibly exist except as floating thought impressions. I intend to tickle the mind of my reader, but not every reader ends up amused with my antics. Some quite naturally read denotatively, expecting the material to somehow reduce to factual as well as felt sense. These folks frustrate and confuse me. More properly, I struggle to comprehend denotative perception.

I worked hard to avoid studying the sciences in school because I couldn't seem to catch onto the memorization involved.

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"I seek my jollies elsewhere now."

If you check the fine print on the back of the label, you'd learn that Passion carries a short shelf life. Go ahead and Google® the word. You'll be inundated with homilies, just as if you didn't already know that Passion fuels purpose, renders success inevitable, and holds the key to that quality of life that has been so long eluding you. If you're still holding down your lunch, check that fine print on the back of the label again. Passion seems to behave like rocket fuel. What doesn't quickly burn, evaporates faster. It's a boost, not cruising fuel.

Whatever I passionately pursue seems to fuel me plenty at first.

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"The view down the block can block any wider perspective."

I tried to tune into MSNBC but couldn't catch the significance of the headline stories. The New York Times seems to describe only trivial affairs. The local paper holds more significance than the whole of the mass media put together. I can see down the block in three directions and barely as far as the back fence behind me. The Blue Mountains retain their winter leggings between splashes of the deepest blue along the ridge tops. The traffic along Blue Street seems more consequential than anything on NPR.

I'm not currently current and I couldn't care less.

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"We seem to try to avoid salvation, sometimes failing. Thank heavens."

The call came just as we were sitting down to a late supper. In our absence, gone from the remodeling project for the last half of the afternoon for the first time since we started the job, the kitchen ends up painted the wrong color. In a reported flurry of frenzied effort, the contractors had purchased the paint and finished the ceiling and all the walls, the walls in a fine yellow, Ivory, rather than the Whole Wheat we'd expected. We thought we'd been clear, but half a dozen rejected samples still populated the workspace and, truth told, the Ivory and the Whole Wheat looked very similar when wet. The Muse rejected the idea that anyone could do anything about the error that night, but the next morning, I called the paint shop to learn that the wrong color could be easily tinted into the right color thanks to Stephanie The Wizard Paint Merchant.

No real harm.

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"I'll be residing in solitary until I spring myself …"

I privately consider myself to be a world-class procrastinator. I'm no rank amateur at the practice, but recognize myself to be a professional-class crastinator, firmly believing that, like hastening slowly or meditative mindfulness, it pays subtle dividends to those who develop the practice into what we who really work at it consider to fully qualify as high art. Procrastinating can be its own reward. The dog that doesn't bark is rarely bitten. It can also be its own worse punishment, when avoidance comes seeking payback on some debt it believes I owe.

Payback can show up as a shakedown artist carrying a Louisville Slugger.

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Maybe I've earned some supper tonight."

By four pm, we shift toward the general direction of shutting down the remodeling work. Though the sun won't set for another couple of hours, the shadows have already started stretching longer and the temperature has slipped. The morning takes almost until noon to shake off the overnight chill, so we're working bankers' hours, though no banker ever worked as diligently as we seem to. I seem to have lost some of my contemplative nature, tucking my head down and just doing whatever seems to need doing, sensing that our time here grows ever shorter, even while each day grows a tiny bit longer. The clean up seems to take as much time as it takes to make the messes in the first place and everything we do leaves some mess behind. The drywall dust has been the worst so far, but the floor sanding promises even worse. We paint today.

My brother Bob reminded me of the blue box, a storage container where I'd stashed my painting supplies from the times before.

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"The conversation further degrades into the absurd
as I close the front door and head out into a chilling afternoon."

The Muse and I call her son's youngest TheGrandOther. Her older half-sister had already been labeled The Grand Otter and, in our search for a proper handle when Kylie was born, she became TheGrandOther. She's something else, which I suppose we could have reasonably expected no matter what name we'd hung on her. Now eight, she fancies herself a princess, though she reports that she's lost her crown. She's discovered lipstick, which she insists every princess uses, though not all of them smear it from halfway to their chin to halfway up their nose, producing clown lips. The clown lips suit me, though, because they seem to resonate the deep truth of her princess pose. It's pretend and we both know it.

Last week, she entered the living room after school to find the white china Buddha head in the middle of the carpet.

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" … stewardship seems to be forever."

Moderns think of ourselves as stewards more than owners. The title might insist that we own that home, but we privately acknowledge that this home will pass on to others and that we no more than steward the property until that transition occurs. We own nothing but the title. These properties own us and our loving attention much more than we ever inflict our will upon them. Our responsibilities as stewards extends no further than we believe them to extend, with some seeming to deny any inherent obligations at all, behaving like renters using up the property rather than as loving nurturers seeking to preserve it and pass it on.

I'm sort of a sucker for stewardship.

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Alberto Giacometti Disagreeable Object 1931
Illustration: Alberto Giacometti Disagreeable Object 1931
"All great decisions get made in this sort of space."

I suppose I pride myself on being an agreeable person. I find it extremely difficult to ever find anything to disagree with, for I seem naturally predisposed to look for the best, and I usually find it. I experience extreme discomfort at those rare times when I simply must demur. I might try on "yes, but" for size, but only very hesitantly ever pose a half-hearted "No!", let alone an emphatic one. My behavior probably means that I'm what the touts and frauds refer to as an easy touch, something my grandchildren deeply suspect or already know. A quivering chin and I transform into a placating boob.

Except on some issues.

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" …the kind of knowingly only we could know but could not possibly explain to anybody else."

Applying paint might be one of the minor purposes of painting, for the surface and the paint, even the brush, merely provide context within which more meaningful purposes might emerge. One can always blunt this emergence by simply fleeing from it. Plug yourself into a playlist or recorded book and lose some potential. Let your mind wander where it will instead and you'll very likely surprise yourself by engaging in a kind of MumblingMeditation.

Painting a single board won't induce the trance.

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