“You didn’t make the cut, but thanks for trying.”
It was the story of my life, fruitlessly chasing my ambitions with Wile E. Coyote abandon. Somehow, I always fell short of capturing my prize. I was outwitted by the competition and left hanging in mid-air before falling into a chasm, howling in pain.
Later in life, I discovered all of my hard work and determination granted me distinctive and recognizable status in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The disease allowed me to channel my formerly ineffective energy towards my greatest goal yet—home improvement.
Taking enormous pains to give my house a quality makeover, I spent two years selecting rare stone countertops and backsplashes. I had beautiful handmade mosaic tiles imported from Turkey, and hired many contractors, including a French carpenter with a sexy accent.
Following renovation came the sterilization phase of the project. Armed with an arsenal of cleaning products, I scrubbed, scoured and Febrezed my way into every nook and cranny, eradicating my home of every possible germ left behind by the contractors.
My efforts to beautify my house paid off in more ways than one when my friend, Lucy, asked if I would place my home on the Ten Most Beautiful Homes Autumn House Tour sponsored by my son Henry’s school. It was the first time my house would be on a home tour! I was elated and agreed. In my house-fixated state of mind, a house tour was a more important measure of success than winning a talent show, being part of a high school homecoming court and being given a major job promotion—combined. I had made the cut. This would be my opportunity to shine.
So what is a house tour? An event in which the entire community pays money to do what I did every day—debate whether grass cloth was the right choice for my office walls, scrutinize my sofa upholstery and wonder how my husband and I could afford all this.
I learned that preparing for the tour would be simple. Organizers would assign captains to man each house on event day. Captains would admit guests, ensure they removed their shoes upon entering, and then comment on some of the home’s unique characteristics. In my house, for instance, they might discuss how our fixation on keeping things organic resulted in a sustainable and almost livable space. “The homeowners spared no expense in their effort to use natural materials throughout the house. For example, this exquisite custom bathroom sink is made from farmed Japanese bamboo, which retains its luster for a lifetime, as long as it doesn’t get wet. The kitchen countertop is a Calcutta de’ Oro marble quarried in Italy, chosen for its classic beauty and practicality. The homeowners have requested that it not be touched, as oily fingerprints could mar the surface. And the lights over the kitchen island are custom-designed, delicate hand-blown glass lanterns. So as not to cause extra vibrations, please tread softly as you pass.”
The homeowner’s responsibility was to make their homes presentable, welcoming and festive. “Presentable” was a cinch for a person like me who gauges clutter according to whether the entire contents of the room could pass through the “12 items or less” express aisle at the grocery store. “Welcoming” could be achieved by simply taking down my front door sign which read, “For sanitary reasons, please do not enter.”
Making my house “festive” would be my greatest challenge. It was November, and I was never the type to fill the house with pinecones and paper turkeys. My idea of autumn festivity is rallying my family to rake the backyard leaves. I do not, like some homeowners, decorate with intangible objects such as smell. Nowhere in my home will you find scented candles with delicious sounding names like “Cranberry Compote,” “Pumpkin Medley” or “Turkey Surprise.” These are the kind of candles that, if lit all at once, gives off the essence of an entire Thanksgiving dinner. Preferring to keep things simple and organic, I keep a matchbook in the guest bathroom instead.
Unlike the other nine homeowners also chosen to place their home on the tour, who all scrambled to clear their house of clutter, I had to add things to my home to give it that lived-in feel. Some would call my home austere. I call it soothing.
Some people fill their homes with family photos: “Here’s Johnny and Sue. Here’s Johnny and Brian. Here’s Johnny, Sue and Brian.” Why do I need to surround myself with photographs of my children? I already know who they are and I see them every day.
People seem to take comfort in owning knickknacks, like miniature spoons and Hummel figurines. I have never been an enthusiast of collecting cutlery for display, nor do I enjoy being under the constant watch of porcelain clowns.
I am content to accessorize my house with simple things that bring me joy, like my coffee maker, paper-towel holder and toilet brush. My floors are devoid of debris and my countertops as barren as an old nun. Even my kids know not to linger in one space too long for fear of getting stashed in the mudroom closet along with their backpacks. That is, when I allow them visits home from their boarding school in Siberia.
Some people take delight in turning their refrigerators into expressive appliances by decorating them with magnets as if it were a year-round Christmas tree. I rely on a calendar instead of refrigerator postings to remind myself to do things like bleach the bathroom grout, iron my underwear and have sex with my husband. I do not own an oinking alarm that sounds every time the fridge opens, warning me not to pig out.
I’m not much of a cook, but since it was a house tour with an emphasis on kitchens, I felt obligated to make it look like someone actually cooked in it. By the time I had finished staging my kitchen, it looked like an Ethan Allen showroom, right down to the artificial artichokes on each plate at the kitchen table. The gourmet vegetables represented the first course in our family’s hypothetical expansive multi-course dining experience. The formal place settings, with cloth napkins and real Wedgewood plates, looked so convincing that even I was looking forward to the imaginary five-course meal that would replace our normal freeze-dried lasagna served on Dixie Disposable, with Crystal Light to wash it all down.
The house tour was a huge success and raised $17,000 for our school. The expected 350 headcount grew to 450 by the end of the four-hour tour. In germ terms, at an average of two plantar warts per person, that translated to approximately 700 warts that marched across my kitchen floor, which collectively grew to an epidemic 900 cases of potential future foot fungi for the entire school district. But regardless of all the fungi in my home, I finally understood what it meant to give back to the community. Volunteering for a worthy cause helped me realize that success is about the process, not just about making the cut.
And yet still, a few months later, as my podiatrist scraped a relentless fungus from my right toe, I couldn’t help but gloat to myself about how I had finally triumphed. Just at that moment, Dr. Healey took a firmer grip of my foot, looked up at me and said, “You also have a suspicious looking mole here. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to make a cut.” Then he warned, “Brace yourself, it may be deep,” the latter part which sounded uncannily like Road Runner’s cry—“Beep! Beep!” The incision didn’t hurt nearly as much as the familiar pain of defeat. I howled.
When I got home, I told my husband that I would have to take a series of medications and wrap my foot every night. I worried about how I would keep track of everything. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “We’ll organize it for you by making a chart. We’ll just buy some magnets and post it on the refrigerator.”
On another note. . .
I am grateful to have two stories appearing in the new anthology, Not Your Mother's Book On Being a Parent and one story in Not Your Mother's Book On Home Improvement. Both books were released nationwide on September 10th and are available at all major bookstores.
When Jersey Girl Lisa Tognola traded her job as freelance writer for that of full-time mother of three children, it didn’t take long before her writing was reduced to grocery lists, notes to school nurses excusing her kids from gym class, and e-mails to her husband reminding him to call his mother. Daily life as a suburban mom was fraught with challenges and unexpected dangers like adult dinner groups, town hall meetings and home shopping parties. Rather than fight her fate, this mom embraced it by unleashing her inner columnist. Her monthly column, Main Street Musings, reflects on life in the suburbs—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Visit her blog http://mainstreetmusingsblog.com/ Follow her on twitter @lisatognola